The Philosophy of Law - LAWS5400

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2024 to 2025.


The Philosophy of Law module is designed for those who think they might be interested in philosophical reflection and enquiry into law. The module assumes no prior knowledge of either philosophy or law. The module uses the tools of analytic philosophy in order to promote understanding and criticism of current and historical understandings of law and legal practice, and to promote students' own critical, reflective understandings concerning these topics. Module learning divides into two parts. The first part occupies Autumn Term learning and teaching, and comprises an introduction to philosophy of law and to the major school of thought in jurisprudence that have dominated reflection on the nature of law. A significant theme of this programme of study is to develop understanding of the relation of ideas in philosophy of law to a wider scholarship that includes historical and sociological understandings of legal practices. The second part occupies Spring Term learning and teaching, and is taken up with the close critical reading of a single monograph in the philosophy of law. The aim of this part of the module is to build upon and supplement Autumn Term learning through the focussed and detailed examination of a single, sustained argument offered within the subject field, thereby deepening earlier understandings and also enabling students to develop and refine their skills of philosophical reading and critique. reading and critique.


Contact hours

Total study hours: 300.
Contact hours: 30.
Private study hours: 270.


All single and joint honours Law programmes

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods

There are two methods of assessment for LW540:

• Path A: 80% examination (3-hours) and 20% coursework (1 essay of 2,500 - 3,000 words); OR,
• Path B: 100% dissertation of 10,000 - 12,000 words.

Unless permission has been granted for assessment though dissertation, students will be assessed by coursework and examination. Permission will only be granted for assessment through dissertation if a student meets the Law School requirements for this method of assessment, and has satisfied the module convenor that the proposed dissertation is a viable project.

Reassessment methods


Indicative reading

• Brian Bix, Jurisprudence: Theory and Context, 6th edition (Sweet and Maxwell, 2012)
• Ian McLeod, Legal Theory, 6th edition (Palgrave Macmillan; London, 2012).
• Raymond Wacks, Understanding Jurisprudence: An Introduction to Legal Theory, Third Edition (OUP 2012);

Regardless of which book is chosen in any particular year as the core text, other books (including those listed above) will be referred to frequently on the module. The following titles are indicative of this further reading:

• Michael Freeman, Lloyd's Introduction to Jurisprudence, 9th Edition (Sweet and Maxwell 2014)
• HLA Hart, The Concept of Law, 3rd edition (OUP 2012)
• Raymond Wacks, Philosophy of Law: A Very Short Introduction, 2nd edition (OUP 2014)

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate a clear, in-depth understanding of the principal schools of thought about the nature of law.
2. Demonstrate precise knowledge of the major theoretical debates in philosophy of law.
3. Demonstrate a clear understanding of the major concepts and principles at issue in the philosophy of law, including those derived from
general philosophy.
4. Prepare detailed accounts of the relevance of topics in general philosophy (including ethics, metaphysics and epistemology) to law.
5. Evaluate law critically as an example of practical as well as speculative reason.
6. Demonstrate the ability to engage in reasoned and sophisticated discussion on the major areas of theory and its practical application.
7. Articulate the aims of philosophy of law and its objectives in relation to law and legal reasoning.
8. Articulate and review the position of philosophy of law in relation to other theoretical perspectives about the nature of law, such as
sociology of law.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate advanced skills in reasoning and critical thinking.
2. Understand and deploy the critical research, argumentation and presentation skills necessary for academic writing.
3. Articulate in-depth, critical and philosophically astute arguments in writing
4. Undertake in-depth legal and philosophical research.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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