Morality and Law - LW604

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
Canterbury Autumn
View Timetable
6 15 (7.5) DR E Curran


LW313/323 A Critical Introduction to Law and LW588/614 Public Law 1.





This course will give students the opportunity to explore the ways in which morality has been understood and theorised and then to trace the development of a particular moral concept (namely, that of individual rights), that is central to legal discourse today. The methodology will be historical/contextual as well as theoretical/analytical. We will look at the way in which the idea of individual rights arose (and continues to develop) in a philosophical, political and historical context and we will examine and critically evaluate modern theories of rights and their relationship to law. The concept of a right is deceptively simple. When examined closely is gives rise to all sorts of questions and problems including, for example: how is the idea of a right justified? What is its relationship to the older idea of liberty? Can it survive the discrediting of theories of natural rights tied to natural law? Can it stand alone as a moral concept or is it merely the ‘other side’ of a duty?

Block 1: A critical introduction to the major theories of moral philosophy: virtue theory, duty based (deontological) Kantian theory and consequentialism (utilitarianism).
Block 2:. A historical/contextual examination of the development of a particular moral concept; that of individual rights.
Block 3.Oral presentations by students in pairs.
Block 4.An analytical examination and critique of modern theories of rights and their relationship to law (incl. ‘interest’ and ‘will’ theories and the legal analysis of Wesley Hohfeld)


This module appears in:

Contact hours

20 hours, 10 x 2 hour lecture/seminar.

Method of assessment

100% coursework consisting of an oral presentation worth 40% and a 2500 word essay worth 60%.

Indicative reading

There is no set preliminary reading but you might like to look at any of the following:
N E Simmonds Central Issues in Jurisprudence: Justice, Law and Rights 2nd ed (Sweet and Maxwell, 2002)
Aristotle The Nicomachean Ethics, any edition
J Stuart Mill Utilitarianism, any edition
J Locke The Second Treatise of Government, any edition
The American Declaration of Independence
United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

Understand the historical development of a key moral and political concept and its complex relationship to law and theories of law.
Demonstrate knowledge of the ways that the notion of morality has been analysed within moral philosophy and how various moral theories have affected the development of law.
Analyse and understand the historical and political development of the notion of a right.
Analyse, evaluate and engage with the arguments that are used to justify, defend and attack the notion of individual rights.
Critically evaluate and analyse the ways in which rights have been understood and incorporated into law.
Demonstrate an understanding of the ways in which theories of rights intersect law, moral philosophy and political theory.

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