Philosophy of Law

Humanities & Social Sciences
Course Code
PHIL 3330
Semester Length
15 weeks
Max Class Size
Method Of Instruction
Typically Offered
To be determined


Course Description
This course will provide a general philosophical analysis of law and legal institutions. The course will explore the nature and purpose of law as found in theories such as natural law theory, positivism and critical legal studies. Students will critically examine the justification of laws and how, if at all, the law is connected with morality. Additionally, the course will examine the nature of legal responsibility, and the purpose of and justification for punishment. The course may also look at the nature of legal reasoning in judicial decisions, for example Supreme Court decisions. Course readings may be selected from both historical and contemporary sources.
Course Content

Instruction in the course will cover 1, 2, 3 and 4, with particular emphasis on the material in 1. 

  1. The Nature of the Law:  examination of natural law theory, legal positivism, legal realism, formalism, and Dworkin’s theory of interpretation; consideration of the role of governments and judges in the creation of law; survey of challenges to the traditional theories of law, for example, feminist jurisprudence and critical legal studies; examination of the nature of legal obligation and its conception in legal theories.
  2. The Purpose of Law:  examination of legal moralism, the nature of constitutions, and the use of law in upholding certain principles, such as equality and freedom; understanding the nature of legal reasoning in Supreme Courts.
  3. Legal responsibility:  examination of the difference between torte and criminal legal responsibility; analyzing the nature of mens rea and actus reus in criminal responsibility and the conditions under which people should be held legally guilty for crimes; discussion of the plausibility of strict liability as a standard of responsibility in law; analysis of defenses against guilt such as the insanity defense. 
  4. Crime and Punishment:  evaluating the justification of punishment and discussing whether the state is ever justified in punishing those who commit crimes; examining theories of punishment and theories of restitution; consideration of restorative justice as an alternative theory of punishment. 
Methods Of Instruction
The course will employ a variety of instructional methods to accomplish its objectives, including some of the following:

Any combination of lecture and seminar. Parts and/or entire classes may be devoted to formal lectures or to informal discussions. Usually some combination of both is employed to ensure that assigned readings are discussed.

Means of Assessment

Evaluation will be based upon course objectives and will be carried out in accordance with Douglas College Policy. The instructor will provide a written course outline with specific criteria for assessment during the first week of classes.

Any combination of the following totaling 100%

In-class tests, quizzes, short written assignments: 0 - 50 %
Written class presentations, essays, final exam: 30 - 100%
Instructor's General Evaluation
(may include attendance, class participation,
group work, homework, etc.): 0 – 20%

Learning Outcomes
Successful students will be able to:

1.  Explain the core elements of the following legal theories:

  • Natural law
  • Legal Positivism
  • Dworkin’s theory of interpretation
  • Legal Realism/Formalism

2.  Explain the challenges to traditional legal theory in the form of:

  • Feminist jurisprudence
  • Critical legal studies

3.  Understand and critically reflect upon the connection between the law and normative principles such as equality and freedom.

4.  Critically reflect on the nature of responsibility and the challenges that arise in establishing legal responsibility.

5.  Critically reflect on the purpose of punishment and the use of law to achieve certain ends.

6.  Demonstrate the above through the use of writing and/or oral communication skills.


Textbook Materials

Sample texts:

Jerome Bickenbach, ed., Canadian Cases in the Philosophy of Law, 4th edition. (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2007)

Kimberlé Crenshaw, Critical Race Theory (New Press , 1995)

Keith Culver, ed., Readings in the Philosophy of Law, 2nd edition. (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2008)

Ronald Dworkin, Law’s Empire. (Universal Law Publishing Co Ltd, 2008)

Joel Feinberg, Philosophy of Law, 9 edition. (Cengage Learning, 2013)

Paul Groarke, Legal Theories: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy of Law. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2013)

H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997)

Catherine MacKinnon, Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987)

Larry May, Philosophy of Law: Classic and Contemporary Readings. (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009 )

Arthur Ripstein and David Dyzenhaus, ed., Law and Morality, 3rd edition. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007)

Patricia Smith, ed., Feminist Jurisprudence. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993)

Jefferson White and Dennis Paterson, Introduction to the Philosophy of Law: Readings and Cases. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)




18 credits or permission of instructor





Course Guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester / year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

Course Transfers

These are for current course guidelines only. For a full list of archived courses please see

Institution Transfer Details for PHIL 3330
Athabasca University (AU) AU PHIL 3XX (3)
College of New Caledonia (CNC) No credit
College of the Rockies (COTR) COTR PHIL 2XX (3)
Columbia College (COLU) COLU PHIL 2nd (3)
Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) KPU PHIL 3XXX (3)
Langara College (LANG) LANG ARTS 1XXX (3)
Simon Fraser University (SFU) SFU PHIL 329 (3)
Thompson Rivers University (TRU) TRU PSYC 3XXX (3)
Trinity Western University (TWU) TWU PHIL 108 (3)
University Canada West (UCW) UCW PHIL 3XX (3)
University of Northern BC (UNBC) UNBC PHIL 3XX (3)
University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) UFV PHIL 230 (3)
University of Victoria (UVIC) UVIC PHIL 336 (1.5)

Course Offerings

Fall 2022