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Philosophy of Law: The Authority of Law


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to students enrolled in the MA Philosophy 120 EC, specialisation Philosophy of Law.


Authority is a pervasive feature of our societies. The most salient institution that claims to have authority is the law. This seminar will be about the law’s authority. We will investigate what it is. We will look at attempts to justify claims of authority and will see if any of these attempts are successful. Finally, we will look who and what might actually have authority.

In the course of the seminar, we will discuss topics such as anarchism, political obligation, positivism, natural law, and autonomy.

Course objectives

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • contemporary debates about the authority of law and authority in general;

  • theories of autonomy, rationality, subjection, obedience and compliance in relation to authorit.

In addition, they will be familiar with:

  • the dominant contemporary theories of authority and political obligation as well as the standard critiques of these theories.

Finally, they will possess some understanding of:

  • contemporary legal positivism and theories of natural law.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • present this knowledge in written form (essay);

  • recognize the main ideas of theories of authority and use these in argument (use the knowledge actively in argumentation and discussion);

  • formulate critical responses to philosophical arguments and positions;

  • write a coherent argumentative text within limited time.


See: MA Philosophy 120 EC.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars.

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course (10 ec x 28 hours): 280 hours:

  • Attending (13 weeks x 3 hours): 39 hours

  • Time for studying the mandatory literature: 100 hours

  • Time for completing weekly assignments: 100 hours

  • Peer review: 8 hours

  • Writing final paper: 33 hours

Assessment method


  • Weekly assignments of approximately 500 words each (30% of the final grade)

  • One paper (60% of the final grade), revised in the light of peer review

  • Peer review of final paper (10% of final grade)

  • Presence and participation (mandatory)


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests.


One resit will be offered, consisting of one substantial paper (60%). The grades for other exam components (assignments, peer review) remain in place.
Class participation and the presentation are required for taking the resit. Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the course after the first examination cannot take the resit.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • posting of texts and assignments

  • feedback on assignments

Reading list

  • All literature will be made available through Blackboard.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number, which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. B.J.E. Verbeek