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PHL 347 Philosophy of Law

Spring, 2020

Dr. Dennis Weiss

HUM 154; EXT: 1513

Office Hours: MWF 12:00 - 1:00,

T 1:30 - 3:30


Course Description and Goals

Timothy Shiell suggests in Legal Philosophy that the philosophy of law is "uniquely concerned with arriving at a systematic understanding of law and relating that to specific cases and kinds of cases." The law touches each of us in innumerable and sometimes intimate ways and so we should endeavor to understand the law. But if we want to understand the law, we should become aware of some general ways of viewing the law and the arguments for and against various schools of thought, as well as specific legal controversies that face current courts and citizens. In this course, we seek to understand the general nature of the law, specific legal controversies especially regarding constitutional issues, and the nature of justice more generally. Our goals are:

  • to understand the nature and substance of disagreements over constitutional issues in the law and issues involving constitutional liberties, especially freedom of speech

  • to understand the nature of law, including various schools of thought on the nature of law and the relation of law and morality

  • to learn how to critically analyze issues and arguments that arise in disputes in philosophy of law

  • to develop our critical reasoning and writing skills in the context of legal issues

Our course will be divided into three sections. In the first section, we will be examining a number of contemporary controversies regarding freedom of speech, hate speech, and the First Amendment. Our second part of the course will begin in week eight and will focus on the core issue often addressed in philosophy of law: What is the nature of law? For our third part of the course, beginning in week 14,  I’ll be seeking your input. There are a variety of topics we could cover and later in the semester, I’ll ask you as a class to decide which topic you’d like to focus on. 

YCP Catalog Description

This course explores such topics as what law is, what kinds of laws there are, how law is or should be related to morality, what sorts of principles should govern punishment, and criminal justice in general. Prerequisite: WRT 102 or FCO 105 . Satisfies Constellations - Globalization and Peace & Conflict for “Generation Next”

Constellations are groupings of courses around broad themes that can be addressed using multi- and interdisciplinary perspectives. Constellations build upon the skills acquired in the Foundations courses and the base of knowledge and methodologies acquired in the Disciplinary Perspectives courses.  Constellations will allow students to apply higher-level thinking and communication skills while increasing the breadth and depth of their education.  The Constellations will be structured to help students integrate ideas from different disciplines, as well as the co-curricular, in an intentional way.  They will allow students see the connections between what they have learned in different general education courses, as well as help them make connections between the general education curriculum and their major. Students will take courses in a Constellation from minimum of three disciplines. Constellation student learning outcomes:

  1. Evaluate alternate, divergent, or contradictory perspectives or ideas.

  2. Engage in inquiry that provides new insight or insight that crosses disciplinary boundaries.

  3. Apply knowledge and methods from two or more disciplines to a single issue or problem.

  4. Make connections or create a synthesis that links two or more seemingly dissimilar contexts.

  5. Engage in critical reflection on their work and the process of its creation.

  6. Demonstrate appropriate collaborative work skills, and the ability to work responsibly alone or in the context of a group as required.

  7. Present themselves and their work professionally.

Required Texts

  • Readings in the Philosophy of Law, edited by Keith Culver, 2nd Edition

  • Additional readings will be available from Web

Please note: I expect you to have your readings available in class. Please plan on being able to access the day's readings each class day in class.

Daily Micro Essays


You should immediately purchase a small package of 4x6 index cards (no smaller). With each new reading assignment, prior to that reading being discussed in class, I will ask you to write a brief, "micro" essay, usually analyzing some aspect of that day's reading assignment. Sometimes I will simply ask you to record your philosophical reactions to the reading. These micro essays serve a number of purposes: they motivate you to complete the reading and come to class to discuss it, help to focus your reading, provide a study guide for your other assignments, and stimulate class discussion. You should be prepared to share your micro essays with other members of the class during our class discussions. Your essays should be approximately 150 - 200 words in length. Each day I will collect your card, review your essay to determine that you have adequately completed the assignment, record your having completed it, and return them to you the following class day. At the end of the semester I will award up to 100 points for these micro essays, deducting five points for each one you failed to turn in. 

  • Essays must be completed before coming to class. 

  • No essays completed at the start of class or during class will be accepted. 

  • If you are found completing an essay in class, 10 points will be deducted from your grade. 

  • Essays can only be turned in on those days that you attend class. 

  • You cannot have other students turn your essays in for you.

  • You can miss three micro essays with no penalty.

  • If you miss no micro essays during the semester, I will award you 10 points for your good performance.

  • There will be no exceptions granted to these policies.

Course Engagement: How Engaged Are You?


In her article "Feminist Epistemology" Naomi Scheman points out that feminist epistemologists argue that it is misleading to think of epistemic agency as ideally exercised in solitude. Knowing and coming to know, Scheman contends, are social and interactive. "They are things we do, and things we are appropriately held responsible for doing, in social and cultural settings that variously help and hinder our doing them well." I wholeheartedly agree with Scheman that knowing is a practice that ideally occurs in a social setting. Each of us is responsible for participating in a variety of communities of knowers and it is a responsibility we ought to take seriously. Our class is one such community, a community in which we must actively participate in the social practice of knowing. To encourage your participation in this community of learners and to encourage you to come to class prepared to discuss that day’s issues, at the end of the semester, you will receive a grade based on your class participation throughout the semester. The grade you receive will be based on, among other things, your regular attendance, your improvement over the course of the semester, and, to the greatest extent, your willingness to contribute in a meaningful way to the daily class discussion. Other indices of an engaged student include:

  • Your willingness to engage the texts and issues associated with the course in the spirit of learning more about yourself and the world you live in.

  • Your ability to respect a diversity of opinion as demonstrated by conducting yourself in a civil manner and by refraining from interruptions and ridicule of others.

  • Your ability to listen and participate during class.

  • Your ability to offer relevant, on-topic commentary.

  • Your ability to arrive at class on time and prepared.

  • Your ability to focus on class during class time. Habitual entrances and exits during class sessions will result in a grade penalty, as will holding private discussions during class and disruptions arising from cell phones, watches, pagers, and the like.

  • Your ability to avoid complaining and asking questions whose answers have already been provided (e.g., “Can I make up the quiz?” and “What is the response for next time?”).

  • Your ability to let me know ahead of time if you have to miss an appointment or conference.

Please review my "Course Engagement Rubric" for a guide to how I will evaluate your class participation.

Course Essays

Our course is divided into three sections and at the end of each section I will be assigning an essay that asks you to critically engage in the material we have been considering in that portion of the course, focusing on assessing, reflecting, and expanding on the issues and materials discussed in class. These essays will presuppose your understanding of the material we have covered in class and will ask you to analyze arguments and philosophical theories and construct arguments of your own on issues relevant to the material discussed in class. The essays must be typed, double-spaced, and employ appropriate college-level writing skills. Late essays will be accepted up to one week past the due date but will be penalized ten points for each day late. Essays should be 1000 - 1500 words. We'll engage in a peer review process with each essay and there will be a 10 point penalty if you fail to write a draft and have it reviewed by a peer in the course.

For more information on writing philosophy essays, see:



Attending class is a key factor in college success. Not only does regular attendance help you succeed, it also helps the class work well and succeed. As my course engagement guidelines make clear, a classroom is a community of learners in which we are all engaged in mastering material. It's far easier to do that when everyone attends regularly. When you fail to attend class, you lose points for your missed homework, your course engagement grade suffers, and your classmates lose out on the opportunity to collaborate with you on the day's coursework.


While I won't be taking roll in class each day, your homework will provide me with a record of your attendance. Attending class is a key factor in college success. Not only does regular attendance help you succeed, it also helps the class work well and succeed. As my class participation guidelines make clear, a classroom is a community of learners in which we are all engaged in mastering material. It's far easier to do that when everyone attends regularly. When you fail to attend class, you lose points for your missed homework and your class participation grade suffers. Additionally, if you miss the equivalent of one's week's classes, your final grade may be lowered by one-half grade (.5). If you miss the equivalent of two weeks of classes, your final grade may be lowered by one full grade.

I do not distinguish between excused and unexcused absences. A missed class meeting is a missed class meeting. There is no need to provide an explanation as to why you were absent, since I do not excuse absences. I recommend that you do not miss class for trivial reasons.

If you miss any class, please be responsible for getting class notes, assignments, etc. from another student in class. It may help to have available telephone numbers or e-mail addresses of one or two classmates.

Activities outside of regular class hours


As part of the regular course requirements, you will be expected to occasionally participate in events outside of the regular class hours. You may be asked to watch videos on your own time and attend evening events. Additionally, as part of the English and Humanities Department's efforts to encourage student participation in college cultural activities, I will ask that you attend two events during the semester. More information concerning this will be provided in class. Following your attendance, you should write a brief 250 word reflective analysis of the event you attended. This must be turned in within one week of the date of the event. You will receive 10 points for each of the two events you attend and write-up.

Course and College Policies Follow this link for information on all the relevant and applicable course and college policies.

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