Professor Tom Campbell, philosopher.

Born: March 3 1938;

Died: July 27 2019

Professor Tom Campbell, who has died aged 81, was a philosopher and legal theorist who served for some years as Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Glasgow; the latter part of his career was spent in the same role at the Australian National University.

Campbell made important contributions to the field of jurisprudence, and in particular to ethics and the law; his doctoral thesis had been on the work of Adam Smith (who, though now considered a pioneer of economics, had been professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow) and the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment were a significant influence on his work. Though his own approach was distinctive and – like Campbell himself – respectful of, and judicious in assessing the claims of, competing views, it was clearly closer to the instincts of HLA Hart than those of Ronald Dworkin.

Much of his work, particularly in his major book The Legal Theory of Ethical Positivism (1996) focused on what he saw as the moral importance of a positivist approach to human rights law and especially of democratic control; he preferred to stress the role of the “Concerned Citizen” rather than that of judges when it came to the content and development of rights, and argued for what he called “ethical positivism”, in which the role of the judiciary in determining contentious moral issues in law should be minimised, and that of the ordinary citizen elevated.

Another of his concerns was the interpretation of, and the limits on, human rights as they had been interpreted by the socialist tradition, which he first explored in Seven Theories of Human Society (1981, revised 1989) and later in The Left and rights: a conceptual analysis of the idea of socialist rights (1983).

Thomas Douglas Campbell was born on March 3 1938 in Lenzie and educated at Loretto, before going on to Glasgow University. He graduated with first class honours in mental philosophy in 1962, and then went to Balliol College, Oxford, as a Snell Exhibitioner and Ferguson Scholar, and after graduating with a BA in theology in 1964, returned to Glasgow to lecture in social and political philosophy in the Department of Politics.

His PhD thesis, entitled Adam Smith and the Sociology of Morals, was completed in 1969; he later published Adam Smith’s Science of Morals (1981), examining Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments.

In 1973, he became professor of philosophy at the University of Stirling, a post he held until 1979 when he returned to Glasgow as Professor of Jurisprudence, a role which he combined with the post of Dean of the Faculty of Law and Financial Studies.

Campbell left Glasgow in 1990 to join the Faculty of Law at the Australian National University in Canberra, where he was professor of law until 2001. During his time there, he was dean of law from 1994 until 1997. Subsequently, he was a professorial fellow at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University, also in Canberra.

He was a regular and influential speaker at symposiums and conferences on aspects of philosophy and legal theory, and published influential work in learned journals on justice, human rights, business and professional ethics. His other books included Justice (1988); Law and Enlightenment in Britain (1991); Prescriptive legal positivism: law, rights and democracy (2004); Rights: a critical introduction (2006) and several co-edited essay collections including Human rights: from rhetoric to reality (1986); The legal protection of human rights: sceptical essays (2001 & 2011) and The new corporate accountability: corporate social responsibility and the law (2007).

Although resident in Australia from 1990 until his death, he was a frequent visitor to Glasgow, and also contributed to lecture series in Oxford, Moscow, and other British and European universities. An affable and convivial man who always made time for and was highly supportive of his students and fellow scholars alike, he made a point of catching up with former colleagues on his visits to Scotland.

He had long been particularly fond of the time he spent, outside university terms, at his cottage on the Mull of Kintyre overlooking the west coast of Arran, which he restored over several years, developing an interest in woodworking and setting up a small workshop. His other interests included dogs (he had an Alsatian cross, Tara); cars (unlike most petrolheads who, having owned one, decided one was enough, he remained an Alfa Romeo man until his last days) and golf.

By his first marriage, he had a son and a daughter, who survive him with Beth, his second wife, and their children.

Andrew McKie