Philosophy 375

PHIL 375: Philosophy of Law

Prerequisite: 3 hours in Philosophy

Credit Hours: (3)

Examines the central historical and contemporary issues in the philosophy of law.  Includes an in-depth study of the central conceptual problems within philosophy of law today, the historical development of the concept of law in Western thought, and the unique issues that arise when the rule of law is envisioned on a planetary scale.


Detailed Description of Course

In the 20th and 21st centuries, philosophy of law has been widely discussed and debated in relation to positivist interpretations of law and varieties of traditional natural-law theory that have been reformulated in the light of contemporary thought.  The work of Benjamin Barber, Lon L. Fuller, Ronald Dworkin, H.L.A. Hart, Jürgen Habermas and others has generated a lively debate in contemporary philosophy and jurisprudence concerning the nature of law, how law is created, the role of the judiciary with respect to law, and the legitimacy of law. 

  1. The course begins with an overview of the historical roots and development of the philosophy of law in Western thought from its inception with Plato and Aristotle, to its development by the Roman Stoics, through the medieval versions of natural-law theory of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, to the early modern social contract theories of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, to its dynamic formulation in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.   After examining Kant’s philosophy of law as a watershed pointing toward contemporary thought, the course examines the philosophy of law implicit in the works of Karl Marx and the development of modern positivism in the thought of John Austin.
  2. The second portion of the course examines the basic issues of modern philosophy of law such as how law is to be understood, what kinds or categories of laws there are, and what the basic functions of law are. It examines various theories of the nature of law, issues concerning the relation of morality to law, and questions concerning the legitimacy of law and its relation to the use of force (such as police powers).
  3. The final third of the course examines the concept of "international law" and focuses on the issues generated by the idea of international law as contrasted with "global" or "world law." Since philosophy of law cannot be understood without the basic theories or categories of political philosophy, the course will include (especially in its first and third sections) philosophies of democracy, human rights, and the relation of law to these concepts as contrasted with law in non-democratic systems. These concepts of “democracy” and “human rights” are fundamental to contemporary debates concerning the rule of law on a planetary level.


Detailed Description of Conduct of Course

The course will be conducted through a variety of teaching strategies such as lectures, discussions, power-point presentations, films, student papers involving research and/or analysis, and student presentations. Students may be required to present to the class an interpretation of a primary reading, lead a discussion providing insight and analysis of fundamental issues within the philosophy of law, or develop a research paper concerning some issue within the philosophy of law.


Goals and Objectives of the Course

Upon completion of the course students will be able to:

1)      Read and analyze primary and secondary texts in the philosophy of law.

2)  Show understanding of the major issues within the philosophy of law.

3)  Show understanding of the basic historical development of the philosophy of law within Western philosophy and jurisprudence.         

4)  Show basic understanding of issues surrounding democracy, human rights, and political processes within contemporary societies.

5)  Demonstrate improved ability to organize and communicate both abstract and concrete ideas in written papers and oral presentations.

6)  Show sharpened critical thinking, reasoning, and reading skills.


Assessment Measures

Grades may be assessed on the basis of written exams, class presentations, group projects, a research paper or papers, and participation (asking questions, summarizing the material, engaging with the issues under discussion, etc.). 


Other Course Information



Review and Approval

February, 2009