AP/PHIL2050 6.0 A: Philosophy of Law

Offered by: PHIL


Fall 2019






Calendar Description / Prerequisite / Co-Requisite

What is law and what is a legal system? Is there anything special about judicial reasoning? What is the relationship between law and morality? What justifies the use of law? What, if anything, justifies punishing those who break the law? Course credit exclusion: GL/PHIL 2925 3.00.

Course Website

Many courses utilize Moodle, York University's course website system. If your course is using Moodle, refer to the image below to access it.

    Additional Course Instructor/Contact Details

Dr. Michael Giudice


Office Location:  S423 Ross

Phone Number:  (416) 736-2100 Ext. 77556

Course consultation hours:  Wed., 12:30-1:30pm, Thu., 12-1pm (or by appointment)

    Expanded Course Description

This is an introductory course which does not require any prior knowledge of law or philosophy.  We will begin with an account of factual features of law, legal systems, and legal reasoning, which will help us identify and discuss issues which benefit from philosophical inquiry.  The main goal of the course is to develop the analytical skills needed to reason critically about thorny philosophical issues about the nature of law and its relation to politics, morality, and other features of social life.  It is important to note that this inquiry into law does not begin with the assumption that there are easily found answers to these issues: they may resist our best attempts to resolve them.  We can, however, come to an understanding of why some issues are particularly difficult to resolve, and we will be able to suggest a variety of promising ways of facing disputes arising from such issues.


The course topics are divided into three main parts.  First, we will critically examine several general theories which attempt to answer the question ‘what is law?’.  We will proceed by investigating law’s relations to morality, coercion, social norms, gender, and Indigenous traditions.  Second, we will look at the relation between law and individual liberty.  Here we will ask under what conditions, if any, is the law justified in enforcing morality?  Third, we will consider the nature of responsibility and criminal responsibility in particular, exploring in detail what it means to be criminally responsible for one’s actions, choices, and character.  In each part of the course we will consider important cases, in Canadian law and elsewhere, which illustrate philosophical questions as they arise in practice.

    Required Course Text / Readings
  1. J. Bickenbach, K. Culver, and M. Giudice, eds, Canadian Cases in the Philosophy of Law, 5th edn (Broadview Press, 2018)


  1. K. Culver and M. Giudice, eds, Readings in the Philosophy of Law, 3rd edn (Broadview Press, 2017)

Further materials, as well as a detailed schedule of lectures and readings, are available on the Moodle website associated with this course.

    Weighting of Course

In-Class Test 1:                    5%       October 29, 2019

Essay 1:                                 20%        November 19, 2019

Exam 1:                                  20%        December (date set by the Registrar)

In-Class Test 2:                    5%        February 25, 2020

Essay 2:                                 20%         March 19, 2020

Exam 2:                                  20%         April (date set by the Registrar)

Tutorial Participation:          10%

    Organization of the Course

The course involves lectures by the course instructor and weekly tutorial sessions of about 30 students each and run by teaching assistants.  The lectures provide a thematic introduction to the central issues in the philosophy of law, while tutorial meetings will provide the main opportunity for sustained discussion of required readings and assignments.  The required readings are central to the course, and must be read carefully.  These are difficult pieces of work which may require several readings before their meaning becomes clear, so do not be worried if an article does not make sense immediately.  The lectures and tutorials will serve to enrich, clarify, and illuminate crucial issues from the required readings.

Course information, assignments, and slides from each lecture will be posted on the Moodle website.

    Course Learning Objectives

The purpose of this course is to assist students in understanding and identifying central features of life under law which merit philosophical analysis and demand justification.  In addition to this course-specific goal, you will also improve your ability to read, criticize, present, and defend arguments both verbally and in writing.  These skills are transferable not just to further study in philosophy and related disciplines, but are also fundamental to success in the legal profession, public service, business, and many other areas of life which will reward you for being able to think, speak, and write clearly and compellingly.

    Relevant Links / Resources