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Study information

Philosophy of Law

Module titlePhilosophy of Law
Module codePHL2061
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Shane Glackin (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

Laws give us reasons for action; we should fasten our seatbelts because it is the law. But what sort of reasons are these? This course focusses on the classic debate in jurisprudence between those who think that law is intrinsically linked to justice – so that our reasons for obeying it are ultimately moral reasons – and those who deny this. We will examine questions about: what entitles law-makers to make law; what guides judges in reasoning about and applying it; and what makes those who break the law responsible for doing so, and justifies punishing them.

No previous experience of philosophy is necessary, and the course is suitable for students of Law, Criminology, or Politics.

Module aims - intentions of the module

  • To introduce you to a range of critical perspectives about the nature and justification of modern legal systems.
  • To develop your capacities for philosophical analysis and reasoning.
  • To encourage reflection on the moral, economic, and political basis of the modern state.
  • To prepare you for a wide range of legal and political career paths by showing the relevance of their philosophical training to “real world” practical debates.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. demonstrate the ability to think critically about the place of law in its broader philosophical context;
  • 2. demonstrate understanding of the key issues in classic debates about the nature of law, the grounds of legal reasoning, and the justification of judicial punishment;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 3. apply philosophical reasoning to practical disputes outside of academia;
  • 4. understand the integrated nature of ethics, political theory, law, and economics;

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. communicate complex ideas in clear and precise written and verbal form; and
  • 6. construct, evaluate, and criticise arguments.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

 Positivism v Natural Law Theory (e.g. Hart, Dworkin, Raz, Finnis, Fuller)

Legal Realism, Critical Legal Studies and Critical Race Theory

Legal Reasoning and Judicial Interpretation

Theories of Punishment (e.g. retributivism, deterrentism, abolitionism)

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activity22Weekly 2-hour lectures/seminars or 1 hour lecture + 1 hour seminar
Guided Independent Study40Assigned readings associated with each tutorial
Guided Independent Study88Preparation of Assigned Essays

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay 1501,875 words1-6Written
Essay 2501,875 words1-6Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay 1Essay (1,875 words)1-6August/September reassessment period
Essay 2Essay (1,875 words)1-6August/September reassessment period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Core readings:

Hans Kelsen, Introduction to the Problems of Legal Theory (extracts)

John Austin, The Province of Jurisprudence Determined (extracts)

H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law, 2nd Edition (extracts)

O.W. Holmes, “The Path of the Law”

Ronald Dworkin, Law’s Empire (extracts)

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (extracts)

John Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights (extracts)

Lon Fuller, The Morality of Law (extracts)

-- “The Case of the Speluncean Explorers”

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (extracts)

Saul Kripke, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language (extracts)

Andre Marmor, “Constitutional Interpretation”

G.W.F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right (extracts)

J.S. Mill, On Liberty (extracts)

Jean Hampton, “The Moral Education Theory of Punishment”

Jeffrie Murphy, “Marxism and Retribution”

Anthologies & Textbooks:

Larry May & Jeff Brown (eds.), Philosophy of Law: Classic and Contemporary Readings

Dennis Patterson (ed.), A Companion to the Philosophy of Law and Legal Theory

Martin Golding & William Edmundon (eds.), The Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Law and Legal Theory

Seán Coyle, Modern Jurisprudence: A Philosophical Guide

Andrei Marmor, Philosophy of Law

Key words search

Philosophy: Law: Jurisprudence: Justice: Interpretation: Punishment

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Last revision date