PHIL 217

Philosophy of Law

Please note: this is archived course information from 2023 for PHIL 217.


"Philosophy of Law" involves the philosophical analysis of law and legal institutions.

Issues in the field range from abstract conceptual questions about the nature of law and legal systems to normative questions about the relationship between law and morality and the justification for legal institutions and practices.

This course will focus on a series of questions central to analytic philosophy of law, including: 

  1. What would it be to conceive of law as a system of rules and why would we wish to do so?
  2. Should judges have broad discretion to decide cases in ways which promote justice?
  3. What should we think of an apparently legitimate law which would bring about an injustice if applied in some particular case?
  4. Can we identify those norms that are part of our legal system without seeing whether what they require of us is consistent with morality?
  5. How does the law give us reasons to do one thing rather than another?

We will trace these and related questions through the major Western theories of law.  

Although we will occasionally refer to legal material, the course does not assume prior knowledge of law.


Coursework + exam

For full course information see the Digital Course Outline for PHIL 217.

Digital Course Outlines are refreshed in November for the following year. Digital Course Outlines for courses to be offered for the first time may be published slightly later.

Availability 2023

Not taught in 2023




Coursework + exam


PHIL 217: 15 points


30 points in Philosophy or 90 points


PHIL 337