Fall 2014

Philosophy of Law

Listed in: Philosophy, as PHIL-311

Formerly listed as: PHIL-24  |  PHIL-39

Moodle site: Course


Daniel A. Koltonski (Section 01)


What is law? Is law a branch of morality discoverable by ethical reflection? Is it nothing more than the commands issued by whoever happens to have the most power? Or, is neither of these positions quite right? When judges interpret laws in order to decide cases, is this a process of discovery or of invention? Are there any objective standards for determining whether a law has been correctly interpreted? 

This course provides an in-depth introduction to several central issues in the philosophy of law. In the first half of the course, we will address the fundamental questions about law listed above. Those topics will be: (1) the nature of, and difficulties in, legal reasoning; (2) several competing conceptions of the nature of law and its connection, if any, to morality; and (3) the ideal of the rule of law and its value.  In the second half of the course, we will consider one important problem area in each of criminal law, civil law, and constitutional law: (4) the rights of defendants in criminal law; (5) the law of contract in civil law; and (6) the right to privacy in constitutional law.  And, if time permits, we will end the course by considering (7) the debate about whether judicial review—i.e., judges’ power to strike down laws as unconstitutional—is compatible with democratic governance.

Requisite: One course in Philosophy or consent of the instructor. Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Visiting Professor Koltonski.

If Overenrolled: Preference to majors, then by class and to those who attend the first class.


Writing attentive


2015-16: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2009, Fall 2014