Due to the Corona virus it is unclear how the programmes will take place. For the latest news please check the course page in Blackboard/Brightspace.


nl en

Philosophy of Law: Authority


Admission requirements

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


Authority is a pervasive feature of our societies. The most obvious institution that claims to have authority is the law. However, in addition to legal authority, there is also parental authority; expert authority; democratic authority, etc. This seminar will be about authority and especially about the question whether law has any authority over us. We will investigate what authority is. We will look at attempts to justify claims of authority and will see if any of these attempts is 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, as well as more general philosophical topics like the authority of experts and so-called agential authority.

Course objectives

This course aims to:
investigate the idea of authority in the domains of law, epistemology and agency. In each of these domains the following questions will be addressed: what is it; can claims to such authority be justified and if so, how; who or what (if anybody) has it?

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

  • Contemporary debates about the authority of the law; the authority of experts and the authority of the agent. Students will be able to recognize the following ideas and use these in argument: autonomy, rationality, subjection,obedience and compliance.

  • In addition, they will be familiar with the dominant contemporary theories of authority, most notably, those of Joseph Raz, Scott Shapiro, Stephen Darwall.

  • They will know the standard critiques of these theories.

  • Finally, they will possess some understanding of historical roots of these theories, especially the work of Hobbes, Hume and Godwin.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • Present this knowledge in written form (essay) and orally (in a ‘mock conference’).

  • Formulate philosophically relevant questions about authority.

  • Formulate philosophically relevant evaluations of the positions and theories encountered.

  • Write a coherent argumentative text within limited time.


See Timetables Philosophy 2014-2015 , Timetables MA Philosophy 60 EC/120 EC.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load for the course: 280 hours.

  • Attendance of seminars: 42 hours

  • Time spent on self-study: 100 hours

  • Time spent on weekly assignments: 42 hours

  • Time spent final essay: 80 hours (including research and rewrite).

Assessment method

  • Weekly written assignments (30% of the final mark)

  • Final research essay (70% of the final mark)

  • Comments on first draft of paper by fellow student (prerequisite for participation in examinations)

  • Presentation of paper to fellow students (prerequisite for participation in examinations)

Attendance is mandatory. Students cannot miss more than two seminars.

One resit will be offered, consisting of the final paper. Any student who did not take the first examination cannot take the resit.


All study materials will be made available through Blackboard. In addition, assignments and final essay will have to uploaded on Blackboard. Results will be publicized via Blackboard.

Reading list

To be announced.


Please register for this course on uSis.
See Registration for courses and examinations

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable for courses in the column under the heading “Act.nbr”.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. B.J.E. Verbeek


This course is compulsory for MA students in Philosophy (120 EC), specialisation Philosophy of Law.