Philosophy of Law
Philosophy 67
2:30 - 3:50, MTh Peter Suber
Carpenter 322Spring 1999-2000


The required reading for this course consists of a few hand-outs and the following books:

  1. Michael J. Gorr and Sterling Harwood (eds.), Crime and Punishment:  Philosophic Explorations, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 1995.
  2. Clarence Morris (ed.), The Great Legal Philosophers, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1959.
  3. H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law, Oxford University Press, second edition, 1994.
  4. Ronald M. Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously, Harvard University Press, 1978.
  5. Peter Suber, The Case of the Speluncean Explorers, Routledge, 1998.

The assignments on Aquinas, Locke, Austin, and Holmes are from the Clarence Morris anthology. Try to read all of the assigned parts of these four philosophers for the first day of lecture or discussion on them. That way we can spend the second day on each of these philosophers deepening the discussion, not covering new material for the first time.

I've created a course home-page containing a collection of hand-outs and course-related web links at If you find any other relevant links, let me know and I'll add them to the collection.

In the table below, works and pages cited for a given day will be discussed or presupposed that day in class and should have been read in advance. Those in brackets are recommended but not required. Writing assignments (in the yellow boxes) are to be turned in at class time on the due dates.


Week 1, August 23 - 27
no class
First class, no reading due.

Week 2, August 30 - September 3
Generic Suberian hand-out. The Case of the Speluncean Explorers, pp. 5-32 (Lon Fuller's original article) Speluncean judgment due
Gorr and Harwood, pp. 147-164 (on euthanasia)

Week 3, September 6 - 10
Gorr and Harwood, pp. 471-477, [477-487], 487-515 (on the death penalty)
Speluncean Explorers, pp. 35-107 (nine new opinions). Discussion groups.

Week 4, September 13 - 17
Aquinas (in Morris)
Aquinas, cont. Discussion groups. Library report #1 due

Week 5, September 20 - 24
Locke (in Morris)
Locke, cont. Discussion groups.

Week 6, September 27 - October 1
Austin (in Morris)
Austin, cont. Discussion groups.

Week 7, October 4 - 8
Holmes (in Morris)
Holmes, cont. Discussion groups. (I'll be out of town. Please discuss without me.) Mid-term paper topic due

Week 8, October 11 - 15
Gorr and Harwood, pp. 3-34 (on liberty and privacy)
No class, no discussion groups. Mid-term break.

Week 9, October 18 - 22
Gorr and Harwood, pp. 171-204 (on pornography) Mid-term paper due
Hart, Chapters 1-2. No discussion groups.

Week 10, October 25 - 29
Hart, Chapters 3-4.
Hart, Chapters 5-6. Discussion groups.

Week 11, November 1 - 5
Hart, Chapter 7, [8], 9, [10].
Dworkin, Introduction and Chapter 1. No discussion groups.

Week 12, November 8 - 12
Dworkin, Chapter 2, [3]. Library report #2 due
Dworkin, Chapter 4. Discussion groups.

Week 13, November 15 - 19
Dworkin, Chapter 5, [10, 12, 13].
Hart, Postscript. (Hart v. Dworkin review day.) Discussion groups.

Week 14, November 22 - 26
No class. Thanksgiving break

Week 15, November 29 - December 3
Gorr and Harwood, pp. 121-146 (on drugs)
Goor and Harwood, pp. 247-282 (on hate crimes). Discussion groups.

Week 16, December 6 - 10
Speluncean Explorers again Evaluation form due before next class
Last class, oral evaluation. Optional second Speluncean judgment due


Title Due date Weight Description
Speluncean judgment August 30 10% 2-3 pp. Decide the case and argue for your verdict. Details.
Two library reports September 16, November 8 10% 2-3 pp. each. These are ungraded but bear a weight (5% each) in the final grade. Details.
Mid-Term Paper October 18 30% 7-12 pp., on a question from a list I will provide. 10-15 pp. if comparative.Details.
Participation daily 20% Attendance, preparation, quality of participation in discussions, both in class and in small discussion groups. Details.
Evaluation form December 8 0% Due any time before the last day of class.
Final exam December 14, 2:00 pm 30% On our regularly scheduled exam day. Details.
You must submit all assigned work to pass the course.

Speluncean judgment

Assume that you are a Justice of the Supreme Court of Newgarth. You have taken an oath to uphold and apply the laws of Newgarth. Decide whether the speluncean explorers are guilty or not guilty of murder and argue explicitly in support of your judgment. Your opinion should take 2-3 pages. Cite the text by page when you quote or paraphrase.

In this short space you don't have time to restate the facts or digress from law into philosophy of law. So don't.

Toward the end of the semester, you may write a second judgment (3-5 pp.) on the case if you want extra credit. If you do, your second one need not respond to your first one, or build on it in any way. You may simply start over and do it better than you did the first time, in light of your new wisdom about law and adjudication. Rewrites of the first judgment are not allowed except in this form.

Hint:  the strongest argument for conviction is the statute. The strongest argument for acquittal is the necessity defense. If you argue for conviction, explain why the necessity defense fails. If you argue for acquittal, explain why the statute doesn't require you to convict.

Mid-term paper

Early in the semester I'll give you a hand-out of questions that most of our authors address. For this paper, choose one of the questions and one of our Morris authors (Aquinas, Locke, Austin, or Holmes) by Thursday of Week 7. The paper itself is due a little over a week later, on Monday of Week 9.

The assignment is to reconstruct how your chosen author would have answered your chosen question and then to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of that answer. The assignment is described more fully in my essay assignment hand-out

See my generic hand-out for details on paper mechanics, lateness, rewrites, and the option of having me grade your paper on tape. I apply a penalty to late papers that arrive during the semester. I don't accept late papers or rewrites after the last day of class.


This two-hour exam will cover all the authors assigned during the term. It will consist of brief ID's and several essay questions.

I will probably give you a set of exam questions early for you to study. Perhaps we can drop one or two from the set at the consensus of the class. Perhaps I'll drop a few others with dice on the exam day.

If you give me a self-addressed, stamped envelope for your final exam, then I will mail it to you after I grade it. Otherwise I'll return it to your campus mail box (if you put your box number on the exam) or hold it for you to pick it up next semester.


When we meet as a class, I will aim for a mix of lecture and discussion. I would like to have discussion frequently, but the size of the class may curb our ambitions here. If discussion is stymied by the need to know a point of law, I may offer a spontaneous 'mini-lecture' to answer the question.

I will assume that you read and understood the day's reading. In my lectures I will sometimes focus on the most difficult points from the reading, sometimes the most important, and sometimes fine points most likely to be overlooked. Sometimes I will omit detail in order to give the big picture; sometimes I will ignore all but one sub-topic in order to give detail. There are two important consequences for you.

Discussion groups

On Thursdays, we'll start in the main classroom. I'll spend 20 minutes or so setting up discussion from the day's text. Then we'll break into small groups for discussion. Each group will meet in a separate room. If you forget which group you're in, check here.

Discussion groups
1 Carpenter 322
2 Carpenter 321
3 Carpenter 315
4 Carpenter 222

I will circulate among the groups. When I am in your group's room, I will not be the discussion leader, only an observer. You will lead your own discussions. Each group will be responsible for the content and quality of its discussions.

One member of each group should serve as a Recording Clerk and make a record of the discussion to be handed in to me the next day. The responsibility of Clerk should rotate in each group, by any method the group selects. Whether a group wants a rotating convener as well is its own decision.

See my generic hand-out for details on participation and discussion.

Legal research

In doing legal research, I'd start with the links on my page of course-related web links or with the following reference works in Lilly Library:

If you want to follow the news from the world of law, or about general events from a legal perspective, use the links I collected for Current Legal Events, a one-credit course I've been teaching in the spring semester.

Return to the course home-page.

Ribbon] Peter Suber, Department of Philosophy, Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374. Copyright © 1999, Peter Suber.