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History and Theory of International Norms and Institutions


Admission requirements

Recommended course:

  • Sovereignty & Statehood


We are reminded daily of the fragility of the norm-based international world-order. How did it develop and what are the philosophical views underpinning it? This course traces the history of philosophical reflection on international norms and institutions, and their development from the medieval period to today. The course combines a focus on significant authors from that history, such as Aquinas, Grotius, Kant, and Morgenthau, with attention to a more wide-ranging secondary literature. To better understand the nature of international norms and institutions we closely read (selections of) seminal works by these authors. We also attend to the development of significant adjacent concepts such as territorial jurisdiction, sovereignty, and war from a philosophical perspective. Engagement with secondary literature will allow us to critically reflect on the colonial background of the development of international law, the post-war global governance architecture, and the critiques of Eurocentricity in the historiography of that development.

Course Objectives

After successful completion of the course, students are able to:

  • reproduce and understand the arguments of significant philosophers about international norms and institutions

  • critically engage with these arguments by identifying strengths and weaknesses and by comparing and contrasting them

  • relate this philosophical reflection to relevant knowledge acquired elsewhere in the major ‘International Justice’

  • critically engage with the historiography of international law.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2020-2021 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Interactive seminars.

Assessment Method

  • Class participation: 15 %

  • Individual presentation: 15%

  • Mid-term take-home exam (week 4): 30%

  • Final essay (due week 8): 40%

Reading list

Readings will be made available to students.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Alexandra Chadwick,