Philosophy of Law: Jurisprudence

The laws of a society embody both its highest ideals and its worst nightmares. This course examines the origins of law and why humans invent laws for themselves. Jurisprudence is the area of philosophy which studies the fundamental concepts on which legal systems are based. We will compare different cultural and historical systems of law, and also engage in lively discussions on issues such as sedition, torture, human rights, the problem of evidence, and the connection of law to ethics, culture and science. Throughout the course I will invite members of the class to participate in hypotheticals, to enhance our understanding of the complexities of different approaches in law.


  • Online


  • Introduction to Jurisprudence: History and Concepts
  • Types of Philosophy of Law
    • Natural Law Theory (religious): Readings from St Thomas Aquinas. Extract from Martin Luther King Jr Letter from Birmingham City Jail. Natural Law Theory (scientific and humanist): With the help of some English history we will consider a range of theorists from the sixteenth century to the present who have and continue to seek some justification for Law beyond human custom or convention.
    • Utilitarianism: Readings from J.S. Mill. Law and Distributive Justice: Readings from John Rawls. Law as an Economic Theory: Readings from Richard Posner.
    • Kantianism the Law as Good Will: Readings from Kant’s The Philosophy of Law. Positivism: Readings from John Austin and H.L.A. Hart.
    • Marxism, Postmodernism & Critical Theory: The problem of power, how does power act to control and define subjects, particularly those in marginalised groups.
  • Analysis of Legal Mechanisms and Procedures
    • The Rise of the Jury. What are the pros and cons of being judged by your peers? We will also cover the issue of evidence in this session and by extension, how do you assess gilt?
    • Crime and Punishment: What is the point of punishment: retribution, rehabilitation, justice, utility. What is acceptable as a punishment and should victims or their families have a say in the matter.
    • Legal Reasoning: Argument from analogy and the mechanism of precedent in legal history.
  • Global Issues & International Law
    • Human Rights: Readings from Geoffrey Robertson’s Crimes Against Humanity.
    • The U.N. and Global Security. The limits of National Law and when International Law is legitimate.
    • Is the globalisation of Law necessary to solve some of our major world issues
  • Law and the Humanities
    • Law and Anthropology: Understanding different societies and their histories allows us to asses our own legal system more objectively.
    • Law and Psychology: How does the criminal mind work, psychology has spent much research on this issue.
    • Law and Sociology: Sociology attempts to understand human social behaviour and why human beings need rules and regulations.

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