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Political and Legal Philosophy



This course intends to be an introduction into the field of legal and political philosophy, which is concerned with the ultimate foundations of law and politics. Contrary to most other introductory courses, no handbooks and hardly any secondary literature will be used, but mostly primary sources i.e. Great Books. Moreover, the course aims to provide an overview of some of the most important written reflections on law and politics brought forward in history, and not merely of the positions prevailing at the moment.

The central foundational question of law and politics is whether there is a ‘higher law’, understood as ‘divine law’ or ‘natural law’.

Most of the people most of the time believe that the latter is indeed the case: the state/law does not have the license to do whatever its likes. It should realise the ‘higher law’, or at least respect it, and not transgress its commands. Human rights discourse only is the most recent effort to put into words this ‘higher law’

Hence, the question arises how ‘human rights’ can be justified? Is there really such a ‘higher law’? Or is it rather the expression of subjective, Western preferences?

In the past the ‘higher law’ was thought of in different terms, not as a system of ‘human rights’, but as a whole of ‘duties’ -think of the Ten Commandments-, or as a whole of ‘virtues’. Both ways of conceiving the ‘natural’ or ‘divine’ law have a long history, and many authors have put forward strong arguments in their favour. If one looks at the matter in this way, the idea of a ‘higher law’ acquires a wholly different meaning and content. And as a consequence, also our thinking about the tasks and the limits of the state/the law changes completely.

Course objectives

By the end of this course, students:

  • Have been trained in reading, speaking, and writing -and ultimately, thinking- at a very high level;

  • Have been introduced to the most important topics of eternal questions of legal and political thinking;

  • Have studied some of the greatest works ever written;

  • Have discussed these works in a classroom.


Check MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) seminars: 5

  • Names of instructors: Prof. A. Kinneging

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

  • 5 short weekly papers (400-500 words)

Each paper counts for 20% of the final grade. No essay can be retaken, however grades can be compensated. The results of the papers are no longer valid after the present academic year.

Submission procedures
The weekly papers have to be uploaded in Brightspace (Turnitin)

Areas to be tested within the exam
The examination syllabus consists of the required reading (literature) for the course, the course information guide and the subjects taught in the lectures, the seminars and all other instructions which are part of the course.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials

  • to be announced

Course information guide:

  • not applicable


  • not applicable

Recommended course materials

  • not applicable


Registration for courses and exams takes place via MyStudymap. If you do not have access to MyStudymap (guest students), look here (under the Law-tab) for more information on the registration procedure in your situation.

Contact information

  • Coordinator: Prof. Andreas Kinneging

  • Work address: Faculty of Law, KOG, Steenschuur 25, Leiden

  • Contact information: Room A3.39

  • Telephone number: 00 31 (0)71 527 7654

  • Email:


  • Institute: Interdisciplinary Study of the Law

  • Department: Legal Philosophy

  • Room number secretary: A3.19

  • Opening hours: Mon – Fri 8.30 – 16.30

  • Telephone number secretary: 00 31 (0) 71 527 7548

  • Email: