Jurisprudence and Political Theory

Students taking Jurisprudence and Political Theory have the opportunity to participate in wide-ranging but analytically precise discussions in legal, political, and therefore also, to some extent, moral philosophy and in related social theories in their bearing on the nature, institutions, and methods of law. Topics include the concept and the nature of law; the fundamental explanation of legal rights and obligations; the ways in which institutional actions and practices can affect people’s normative situation; the nature of legal interpretation; the question whether the law has an essential function or purpose; the nature of adjudication; the relation of legality to the use of organized force; the individual’s moral rights and duties that obtain because of the law; the individual’s moral rights against his or her government; the nature and justification of political authority and the character of political obligation. Key political ideas such as equality, liberty, and autonomy, are also included, as are key issues about the nature and source of reasons, the grounds of rights and obligations, and the character of philosophical explanation. Discussion of these topics strives for analytical precision, and often proceeds by critically examining advanced work in progress by members of faculty and others.

The seminars do not necessarily cover all of the topics mentioned above, and of those covered some may be covered in much greater depth than others. Nevertheless, the list of topics gives a good general indication of the field to which the seminars and the eventual list of examination essay topics relate.

The course is a philosophy course, and in that sense is a specialist rather than a generalist pursuit. Through it students may expect to develop some of the skills and dispositions of professional philosophers. It is a graduate level course, and though it has no pre-requisite, students should expect graduate level work and training. An acquaintance with some undergraduate-level jurisprudence is presupposed. Those who enter on this course without having formally studied jurisprudence may prepare themselves by reading some of the following or comparable works: Hart, The Concept of Law, Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously or Law’s Empire, Raz, The Authority of Law. Students with an Oxford Jurisprudence background, and others, could prepare for the course by careful reading of (for example) Dworkin, Justice for Hedgehogs, Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Raz, The Morality of Freedom, or Scanlon, What We Owe to Each Other.

Seminars specifically designed for students on this course are regularly convened by Professors J Dickson, J Edwards, P Eleftheriadis, T A O Endicott, J M Finnis, L Green, and N Stavropoulos. Although the seminars are held with BCL/MJur students in mind, they serve a wider constituency. Participation by students on other graduate programmes (e.g. BPhils, MPhils, DPhils) is actively encouraged, and the level of discussion is sometimes correspondingly advanced. Those taking the paper are also encouraged to participate in seminars and lectures taking place elsewhere in the university, including in some of those advertised on the Philosophy Lecture List and the Politics Lecture List. Those who are not conversant with the basics of political philosophy, in particular, should consider whether to attend lectures on the undergraduate courses in Moral and Political Philosophy in the Law Faculty, in Ethics (see the Philosophy Lecture List), and in the Theory of Politics (see the Politics Lecture List). Lectures from the undergraduate Jurisprudence course in the Law Faculty would also help those who need to be more familiar with the basics of legal philosophy.

Four tutorials will be provided in HT, usually in groups of two or three. These are arranged by the teaching group and neither students nor college tutors need take any steps to organise them.

Examination is by the submission of three essays, written over the Easter vacation. You should expect to spend the larger part of the six weeks of the Easter vacation working on your Jurisprudence and Political Theory essays. The assumption is that you will not write essays that duplicate the seminar discussions. Instead you will do your research for yourself at Easter, once you know the topics.

Learning outcomes: an understanding of fundamental questions concerning the nature of law and key ideas in political theory; a capacity to approach legal and political issues from a philosophical perspective.