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Philosophy of Law

Course Code: PHIL 3330
Faculty: Humanities & Social Sciences
Department: Philosophy
Credits: 3.0
Semester: 15 weeks
Learning Format: Lecture, Seminar
Typically Offered: TBD. Contact Department Chair for more info.
course overview

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.


course prerequisites

18 credits or permission of instructor



curriculum 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 schedule and availability
course transferability

Below shows how this course and its credits transfer within the BC transfer system. 

A course is considered university-transferable (UT) if it transfers to at least one of the five research universities in British Columbia: University of British Columbia; University of British Columbia-Okanagan; Simon Fraser University; University of Victoria; and the University of Northern British Columbia.

For more information on transfer visit the BC Transfer Guide and BCCAT websites.


If your course prerequisites indicate that you need an assessment, please see our Assessment page for more information.