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Philosophy of Law, Governance, and Politics: the Question of Law


Admission requirements

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialisation Philosophy of Law, Governance, and Politics

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: specialisation Moral and Political Philosophy


This year we will look at the question of legal and political authority.

Characteristic for the modern state is the claim to sovereign authority. The most salient institution that claims to have authority is the law. This seminar will be about legal authority and more broadly, about political authority in general. 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, apart from authority, topics such as anarchism, political obligation, positivism, natural law, sovereignty, and autonomy.

Course objectives

This course aims to provide students with insight into the nature of the state and law through the prism of its claim to authority and equip them for philosophical reflection on law, governance, and politics.

Students who successfully complete the course will:

  • have a good understanding of contemporary debates about the authority of law and authority in general;

  • have a good understanding of theories of autonomy, rationality, subjection, coercion, obedience, sovereignty, and compliance in relation to authority;

  • be familiar with the major contemporary theories of authority and political obligation;

  • know the standard critiques of these theories;

  • 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 about authority and obedience

  • write a coherent argumentative text within limited time.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


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

  • One final paper of app. 3500 words (60% of the final grade), revised in the light of peer reviews

  • Peer reviews of final papers (10% of final grade)

  • Presence and active participation (mandatory)

Class attendance is mandatory. Without sufficient attendance students will be excluded from submitting a final paper or taking the resit.


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


One resit will be offered, consisting of one substantial paper of app. 3,500 words. This will replace the final paper (60%).
The grades for other exam components (assignments and peer reviews) remain in place.
Students who have obtained a satisfactory overall grade for the course after the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

The weekly assignments, the peer reviews, as well as the final paper will receive feedback and grades through BrightSpace and TurnItIn. Attendance will be tracked using BrightSpace as well.

Reading list

Students are expected to retrieve the readings through the library and other online sources.
Readings will include (but are not limited to):

  • Beran, Harry. 1977. “In Defense of the Consent Theory of Political Obligation and Authority.” Ethics 87 (3): 260–71.

  • Darwall, Stephen. “Authority and Reasons: Exclusionary and Second‐personal.” Ethics 120, no. 2 (2010): 257–78.

  • Hart, H. L. A. 1982. “Commands and Authoritative Legal Reasons.” In Essays on Bentham. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

  • Horton, John. 2006. “In Defence of Associative Political Obligations: Part One.” Political Studies 54 (3): 427–43.

  • Horton, John. 2007. “In Defence of Associative Political Obligations: Part Two.”* Political Studies* 55 (1): 1–19.

  • Hurd, Heidi M. “Challenging Authority.” Yale Law Journal 100, no. 6 (1991): 1611–78.

  • Keren, Arnon. “Epistemic Authority, Testimony and the Transmission of Knowledge.” Episteme 4, no. 3 (2007): 368–81.

  • Klosko, George. 1987. “Presumptive Benefit, Fairness, and Political Obligation.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 16 (3): 241–59.

  • Ladenson, Robert. “In Defense of a Hobbesian Conception of Law.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 9, no. 2 (1980): 139–59.

  • Monti, Ezequiel Horacio. 2017. “On Darwall’s Case against the Normal Justification Thesis.” Ethics 128 (2): 432–45.

  • Moore, Michael S. “Authority, Law and Razian Reasons.” Southern California Law Review 62, no. 3 & 4 (1989): 827–96.

  • Rawls, John. “Legal Obligation and the Duty of Fair Play.” In John Rawls: Collected Papers, edited by Samuel Freeman, 117–29. Cambridge; New York: Harvard University Press, 2001.

  • Raz, Joseph. The Morality of Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

  • Scruton, Roger. The Meaning of Conservatism. New York: Penguin Books, 1980.

  • Simmons, A. “Tacit Consent and Political Obligation.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 5, no. 3 (1976): 274.

  • Simmons, A. John. 1979. “The Principle of Fair Play.” Philosophy and Public Affairs, 307–337.

  • Wellman, Christopher Heath. “Toward a Liberal Theory of Political Obligation.” Ethics 111, no. 4 (2001): 735–59.

  • Wolff, Jonathan. 1995. “Pluralistic Models of Political Obligation.” Philosophica 56 (2): 7–27.

  • Wolff, Robert Paul. In Defense of Anarchism. New York (etc.): New York etc. : Harper & Row, 1970.


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