Philosophy of Law: Syllabus

“It is not wisdom but authority that makes a law.” Thomas Hobbes

“Never forget that every thing Hitler did in Germany was legal.” MLK Jr.

Textbook: John Arthur and William H. Shaw. Readings in the Philosophy of Law, Fifth Ed.

Course Schedule

Part 1: What is the Law?

Week 1

  1. Introduction: Syllabus, expectations, basics of argument reconstruction and evaluation, argument diagrams.
  2. Lon Fuller, “The Case of the Speluncean Explorers”  Read P. 1-4 plus the judge you are assigned.

Week 2

  1. Lon Fuller, “The Case of the Speluncean Explorers, Read P. 1-4 plus the judge you are assigned.
  2. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica. p. 163-168

Week 3

  1. (a) John Austin. The Province of Jurisprudence Determined. p. 173-178 and (b) HLA Hart Grudge Informers and the Rule of Law, p. 38-39
  2. HLA Hart, Positivism and the Separation of Law and Morals, p. 194-201.

Week 4

  1. HLA Hart, Law as the Union of Primary and Secondary Rules, p. 202-207.
  2. In-Class Group Assignment. Riggs v Palmer p. 99-102 READ BEFORE CLASS

Week 5

  1. Oliver Wendell Homes, The Path of the Law, p. 182-188. Read also selections: Feel free to read the whole thing here. but you’re only obligated to read the selections from the textbook and the linked selections. 
  2. Ronald Dworkin, The Model of Rules, skim p. 208-210. p. Read 211-215 (stop at The Rule of Recognition)

Week 6

  1. Ronald Dworkin, The Model of Rules, p. 214-217 AND Ronald Dworkin, Natural Law Revisited, p. 218-223. 
  2. Exam Review

Part 2: How Ought the Law to Be Interpreted?

Week 7

  1. EXAM!!!!
  2. Discussion of upcoming themes.


Week 9

  1. (a) Ronald Dworkin, “Vague” Constitutional Clauses, p. 123-126 and (b) A. V. Dicey, The Rule of Law and the English Constitution READ ONLY from last paragraph on p. 23 until before section titled: Writ of Habeas Corpus (about 1.5 pages). 
  2. Read The Due Process Clause, Rochin v. California; Simms v. City of San Antonio

Week 10

  1. In-Class Assignment and Pre-discussion questions: The Second Amendment: District of Columbia v. Heller p. 144-151
  2. Scalia, Interpreting the Constitution, p. 132-135

Week 11

  1. Scalia, Interpreting the Constitution, p. 135-138
    (c) WWSS? (What would Scalia say?) Supreme Court on Title VII and Sex Discrimination
  2. (a) Dworkin, A Response to Scalia, p. 138-143  (b)
  3. Final Paper Assigned: Due IN CLASS April 30. Bring 2 hard copies.

Week 12

  1. Posner, In Defense of Looseness: The Supreme Court and Gun Control, p. 151-156
  2. (a) Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse
    (b) Review for Exam 2

Week 13

  1. EXAM 2!!!!!!
  2. Guest lecturer: Dr. Don Asselin

Part 3: Applied Issues

Week 14

    2. Bring TWO hard copies.
    3. Peer review sheets
    1. Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow Ch. 3.
    2. Lecture on Theories of Punishment 

Week 15

  1. Paul Butler: 

[Don’t freak out, most of the pages are only a paragraph or two long].

  1. Read Intro 2178-2179
  2. Skim 2179-2182
  3. Read 2183-2186
  4. Read 2190-2198
  5. Read last paragraph of 2199-2201
  6. Read 2203-2204

2. Movie: The Circle  (Film on restorative justice)

Week 16: Exam Week

Course Learning Outcomes

Very generally, this course aims to do four things:

  1. Improve your ability to read complex texts.
  2. Improve your ability to reconstruct arguments.
  3. Improve your ability to evaluate arguments.
  4. Improve your ability to write your own arguments.

Specifically, this course aims to give you the resources to understand the various competing positions on the following issues:

  1. What makes a law a law?
  2. What is the relationship between law and morality, if any?
  3. What is the role of judges in a legal system?
  4. How ought constitutional law to be interpreted?
  5. What are the limits of individual liberty?
  6. When may a law legitimately restrict individual liberty?
  7. What is/are the (legitimate) purpose(s) of punishment?

In-Class Etiquette

  • Be respectful of all views.
  • Object to/challenge arguments and ideas, not people.
  • Challenge your own views.
  • Interpret opposing views as charitably as possible.
  • Cellphones must be in your bag during class. Not in your pocket. Not on your desk. Not on your lap. In your bag.
  • Show up on time ready to learn.
  • Be kind.

Grading Policy

Reading Quizzes – 30%
Paper – 20%
Group work  – 20%

Important note on grades: In a perfect world everyone would get the grade that they want. This world isn’t perfect so you’re going to get the grade that you deserve not the grade that you want. However, you can make these two categories align by attending class and being attentive, going to office hours when you are unsure about something, studying hard for exams, completing the assigned readings and assignments. In short, do the things that you’re supposed to be doing anyway. At the end of the semester do not email me with some sob story about why you need an A. My reply will be to copy and past this paragraph. If you need an A in this course, start working tonight. If you’re ever confused or unclear about anything, I’m more than happy to help you during office hours.

F=Below 60%


Notes on Attendance and Reading Quizzes:

There is a very strong correlation between attendance and performance. I don’t take attendance but there will a reading comprehension quiz at the beginning of EACH class (3-5 questions) in the first 5 min of class. The quiz closes after the first 15min of class.

You cannot make up quizzes…sort of…You are able to take each quiz twice: Once at the beginning of class. Second, anytime between Friday 3pm until noon Sunday. Your score will be an average of both attempts. So, if you miss the in-class attempt, your score will be the average of 0+(2nd attempt score)/2. There is no obligation to take the quiz the 2nd time if you’re happy with your first score.

The quizzes are intended to be easy so long as you’ve done the reading. 

Fair game for quizzes:

1. The meanings of any bold terms or section headings.
2. The main point of a section or article.
3. The main reason someone supports a position on an issue.
4. A position the author does/would oppose.

The point of quizzes is not to trick you. It is to reward you for reading and showing up to class (i.e., for doing what you’re supposed to be doing anyway…except I give you a cookie for being a good student).

Important: I will drop the 3 lowest scores. In other words, you get 3 unpenalized absences. I don’t care whether the reason is legitimate or not. I don’t want to be put in a position where I have to determine if a student is lying or telling the truth. You get the 3 unpenalized absences regardless of the reason. If you miss for a legitimate reason that still counts as one of your 3. If you miss because you’re hung over, that also counts for one of your 3. Don’t email me about it. An absence is an absence. I don’t want to be an inquisitor. 

Discussion: How would you like me to handle missing Group Work?

Group Work

You will be assigned a case. Read the case study BEFORE class and turn in the pre-discussion questions to your discussion board.

In class, you will be given additional questions/problems to answer/solve with your group. The group work is designed so that the average group will finish the work in class before the end of the period.

Grading Group Work: I will at random pick few questions from each group. The group’s grade depends on how they score on the questions I select.

Deductions: If you don’t complete and submit the individual portion before class, your grade will be the group’s grade minus 5 points. (Each group assignment is out of 20pts).

If you don’t show up for group work, you lose 15/20 points.

Peer Evaluation: Each member must submit a peer evaluation. Scientific fact: Group work without peer evaluations doesn’t work well. 

  • If you don’t submit the peer evaluation you lose 3pts.
  • You lose 3 pts for any criteria where your peer rate you below average.


If you miss an exam without advance arrangements (at least 24 hours notice) you get 0. I will make every accommodation if, in advance, you provide me a legitimate reason (religious, funeral, school function) and supporting evidence.