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Philosophy of Law: Legality


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to students enrolled in the MA Philosophy 120 EC, specialisation Philosophy of Law. This specialist course is mandatory for above mentioned students.


In this seminar we will study the many faces of what arguably is the most influential legal theory of the 20th century: legal positivism. To this end we will read some seminal texts in the positivist tradition and study the planning theory of law as proposed and defended by Scott Shapiro in his Legality. We will read this book cover to cover as well as various critical reactions to it.

Course objectives

This course aims to introduce the student to the one of the most important legal theories of the 20th century, legal positivism, by studying the most recent developments at the hands of Scott Shapiro’s Legality.

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

  • the legal doctrines of Hart, Fuller, Devlin, Dworkin, Coleman, Radbruch, Kelsen, Raz and Shapiro;

  • the following concepts: legal positivism, natural law, rules, authority, sovereignty of the law, legal interpretation, rule of law and legality.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • recognize the assumption and arguments typical for legal positivists;

  • argue independently about these arguments, especially in writing.


The timetable is available on the MA Philosophy website
MA Philosophy 120 EC

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load: 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

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

  • Time for studying literature: 109 hours

  • Time for weekly assignments: 52 hours

  • Time for writing final essay (including research and rewrite): 80 hours

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)


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of the subtests (assignments, research essay). A subtest can be graded as unsatisfactory.


One resit will be offered, consisting of the final paper. Any student who did not complete at least 80% of the weekly assignments, cannot take the resit. The mark for the resit will replace all previously earned marks. Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examinations cannot take the resit.


Blackboard will be used to make available the readings, assignments and results.

Reading list

  • Coleman, J. (1982). “Negative and positive positivism.” Journal of Legal Studies 11: 139-164.

  • Dworkin, R. M. (1978). Taking Rights Seriously, Duckworth.

  • Finnis, J. (1980). Natural Law and Natural Rights. Oxford, Clarendon Press.

  • Fuller, L. L. (1958). “Positivism and fidelity to law- a reply to professor Hart.” Harvard Law Review 71(4): 630-672.

  • Hart, H. L. A. (1961). The Concept of Law. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

  • Hart, H. L. A. (1958). “Positivism and the separation of law and morals.” Harvard Law Review 71(4): 593-629.

  • Raz, J. (1985). “Authority, law and morality.” Monist 68(3): 295-324.

  • Shapiro, Scott. 2011. Legality. Harvard University Press.

All readings will be made available through Blackboard with the exception of Shapiro’s Legality (HUP 2011). However, students are expected to get their own copy of H.L.H. Hart, The Concept of Law. Make sure you have the second edition or later. The list will be expanded with some additional secondary literature. These too will be made available through Blackboard.


Enrolment for courses and exams through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetables for and exams in the column under the heading “uSis-Actnbr”.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. B.J.E. Verbeek


Not applicable.