Full course description
This course introduces students to a few problems, theories, and arguments in legal philosophy. It does not presuppose a background in philosophy – or even law.
The starting point is a discussion about the grounds of law. We will focus on the following question: “What are the ultimate grounds of legal facts?”. We will examine different formulations of this question and two rival families of theories that have emerged as a response to it: Legal Positivism and Non-Positivism. We will then analyse some arguments for and against these theories.
The course then addresses a different question: “Do we have a duty to obey the law?”. First we will consider and evaluate the plausibility of a number of arguments that favour a positive answer. We will then examine the challenges posed by a view known as “Philosophical Anarchism” and discuss its merits and weaknesses.
Even if we have a duty to obey the law, sometimes disobedience seems justified. Under what conditions (if any) are we permitted to disobey our laws? And if disobedience is sometimes permitted, how far can we act in disobedience? Are we, for example, sometimes permitted to kill government agents? These are the questions we will evaluate next.
Discussion about disobedience is generally focused on citizens. But how about judges? Judges are often confronted with two choices: strictly applying the law or disregarding the law in favour of a morally better outcome. Under what circumstances (if any) are judges permitted to disregard the law in favour of a morally better outcome? A few responses to this question will be examined. We will also analyse a few different conceptions of the role of the judge and their implications to the debate about the permissibility of disregarding the law.
Lastly, we will turn our attention to forms of government. Most actual western governments are – or at least claim to be – democratic. Democracy has a strong correlation with economic growth and the preservation of liberties and human rights. But why democracy? Is democracy the best form of government we can have? We will discuss both arguments for and against democracy. While doing so we will engage with related questions about the value of voting and the duties of electors.
At the end of the course, students will be familiar with a range of problems, theories, and arguments in contemporary legal philosophy. Additionally, the course aims to enable students to:
- Use basic philosophical concepts and tools;
- Understand and formulate philosophical problems with rigour;
- Identify flaws in philosophical theories and arguments;
- Argue for and against philosophical positions about the law.