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Alf Ross

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Alf Ross

Alf Niels Christian Ross (June 10, 1899 – August 17, 1979) was a Danish legal and moral philosopher and scholar of international law. He is best known as one of the leading exponents of Scandinavian Legal Realism.

Born in Copenhagen, Alf Ross graduated from high school in 1917. He studied law, graduating in 1922. He consequently worked in a barrister’s office. In 1923, he commenced a study tour, which would last for two and a half years, visiting France, England and Austria. He spent 1928–1929 in Uppsala, receiving a degree in philosophy in 1929 from the university. In 1935, he was appointed to teach at the University of Copenhagen in Constitutional Law. In 1953, Ross published Om Ret og Retfærdighed (which he would later publish in English, under the title On Law and Justice).

In this book, he states that there is no a priori validity to give the law some special position. Experience serves as a guideline. This means, for example, that the famous dictum ‘suum cuique tribuere’, ‘to give to everyone his own’, has no meaning until it has been determined what actually belongs to someone, which means that this is a matter of begging the question (On Law and Justice, § 64 (p. 276)). His determination not to rely on anything but the facts leads to statements as the following: “The legal rule is neither true nor false; it is a directive.” (On Law and Justice, § 2 (p. 2)). Furthermore, the norm is directed at judges rather than citizens (On Law and Justice, § 7 (p. 33)).

In this line of thought, he opposes natural law-approaches: “Like a harlot, natural law is at the disposal of everyone. The ideology does not exist that cannot be defended by an appeal to the law of nature. And, indeed, how can it be otherwise, since the ultimate basis for every natural right lies in a private direct insight, an evident contemplation, an intuition. Cannot my intuition be just as good as yours? Evidence as a criterion of truth explains the utterly arbitrary character of the metaphysical assertions. It raises them up above any force of inter-subjective control and opens the door wide to unrestricted invention and dogmatics.” (On Law and Justice, § 58 (p. 261).)


  • "Imperatives and Logic", Theoria vol. 7, 1941, pp. 53–71
  • Towards a Realistic Jurisprudence: A Criticism of the Dualism in Law (1946)
  • A Textbook in International Law (1947)
  • Constitution of the United Nations (1951)
  • Why Democracy? (1952)
  • "Tû-Tû", Harvard Law Review vol. 70, Issue 5, March 1957, pp. 812–825. Originally published in Festskrift til Henry Ussing. O. Borum, K. Ilium (eds.). Kobenhavn Juristforbundet, 1951
  • On Law and Justice (1959)
  • The United Nations: Peace and Progress (1966)
  • Directives and Norms (1968)
  • "On Self-Reference and a Puzzle in Constitutional Law", Mind (1969)
  • On Guilt, Responsibility and Punishment (1975)


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