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Philosophy of Law




Admission Requirements

A similarly-tagged 100/200-level course or permission from the instructor.


Philosophy of law. What is that? It is thinking about law in a fundamental way. The question is not: what are the laws? The question is: what is law? Can one think about the law in this fundamental way, without thinking about the morality behind the law? Clearly not. Thus, philosophy of law cannot do without moral philosophy (ethics). Can one think about it without including politics or society? Of course not. Philosophy of law thus also entails political and social philosophy.

The usual introduction to an academic field consists of an overview, a tiny bit of everything in the field thought to be important. I have often given such courses in the past. It does not work very well. Broadness comes with a price: superficiality. Hence, this introduction will be different, it will be out of the ordinary, unorthodox, heretic.

In this course, we will study the work of only one author, expressing only one view. We will study it in depth. Such an approach admittedly is biased and one-sided. It would be inexcusable, were it not that this author is a very special author, and his book a very special book.

The author is the divine Plato, who is generally agreed to be the father of Western philosophy and the most important philosopher ever. Not more than footnotes to Plato, is what all the other philosophers, Aristotle included, have given us.

The book is Plato’s magnum opus, his greatest work, the Politeia, also known as the Republic. If all of Western philosophy is but footnotes to Plato, all of Plato’s philosophy is but footnotes to the Politeia.

The subtitle of the Politeia is Peri dikaiou, which means: ‘on the just’, or ‘on the just man’. The subject-matter of Plato’s greatest work appears to be justice. Justice is the core value of the law. Hence, the Politeia is a work in the philosophy of law. As such, it is also a work of political, social, and moral philosophy. It is the fountainhead of all these fields.


Required: Plato, The Republic, translated by Allan Bloom, Basic Books, 2nd edition 1991 and later
Recommended: Nicolas Pappas, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Plato and the Republic, 1995 and later