Law 217 - Legal Philosophy

Robert Hughes

Robert Hughes

Postdoctoral Scholar
B.A. Harvard University, 2001
Ph.D. UCLA, 2010
Course Description:

This course is an introduction to legal philosophy. Part of the course will be an introduction to general jurisprudence, focusing on the problem of hard cases. A court faces a hard case when the texts of relevant statutes and precedents do not clearly determine what the outcome of the case should be, given the facts of the case. When a court faces a hard case, what role, if any, does morality have in determining what outcome the law requires? (This is not the same as the question whether morality is relevant to what the court should do.)

The rest of the course will introduce some representative topics in normative legal theory, likely including the justification of punishment, free speech theory, and the theory of discrimination. Each topic will have the following structure. Reasonable people generally agree that certain areas of law should exist; for instance, it is generally agreed that a society needs a system of criminal punishment. Reasonable people do not agree what justifies the existence of these areas of law; for instance, there is extensive disagreement about what justifies criminal punishment. There is also extensive disagreement about what specific policy choices should be made in each of these areas; for instance, people disagree about what punishments we should have for which crimes and about what conditions should exempt people from punishment. We will consider different philosophical justifications for each of these areas of law, their theoretical merits, and the ways in which they support divergent policy choices.