Accessibility statement

Philosophy of Law - LAW00037I

« Back to module search

  • Department: The York Law School
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Alex Green
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: I
  • Academic year of delivery: 2024-25

Module summary

What makes law 'law'? Do we have to obey it? Does law serve justice or does it just keep people in their place? This module provides an introduction to some key issues in philosophy of law, and their real-world implications.

Related modules

Co-requisite modules

  • None

Prohibited combinations

  • None

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 2 2024-25

Module aims

The module aims, as part of the overall LLB programme, to enable students to develop new and further critical perspectives on law, whilst progressively developing core academic and legal skills.

This module provides an introduction to some key issues in legal philosophy, and demonstrates their relevance by applying them in a range of relevant contexts. How should the law address 'tragic choices', such as the decision to shoot down a hijacked passenger aircraft being used to target a densely populated city? What are the key characteristics of 'law'? Does it have to be morally good to count as law, and what are the implications, for example, for the status of law under unjust regimes? (How) is law binding? Could you, for example, refuse to obey a law which required you to perform military service? What do judges do, and what should they do? How should judges make decisions in politically or socially controversial areas, from ownership of the family home to leaving the European Union? And, is law really a mechanism for good, or is it in fact part of the problem, sustaining inequality and keeping people 'in their place'?

The module will give students the chance to connect legal research with research in other disciplines including philosophy and politics.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module, students should be able to:

  • Explain, apply, discuss and critically evaluate well-established legal concepts, principles, theories and perspectives in the area of philosophy of law

  • Discuss and critique the development and purpose of law and its interrelationship with society and other disciplines

  • Develop individual opinions and arguments on legal issues and propositions, supported by appropriately critiqued academic evidence, in relation to philosophy of law

  • Apply and evaluate critically problem-solving strategies to develop and propose solutions to academic and practical legal problems

  • Plan, implement and evaluate research methodologies, and strategies, and locate relevant and reliable sources and authorities

  • Communicate the outputs of the above in a variety of written and oral formats and contexts to specialist and non-specialist audiences

  • Demonstrate understanding of norms of scholarly and professional legal practice

  • Reflect on learning and feedback, and use this in identifying future learning interests and needs

Module content

The following is an indication of the areas which the module might address. There are likely to be year to year variations to accommodate particular interests, or issues of current significance.

1. Justice, utility and rights. How these principles might inform the content of law. How the law responds and should respond to 'tragic choice' / 'moral dilemma' situations.

2. The characteristics of law. What makes law 'law'. Positivist and non-positivist, natural law accounts of law. The implications of approaches to the characteristics of law for unjust laws and legal systems.

3. The authority of law. (How) is law binding? When can disobedience to law be justified?

4. Judging. What do judges do and what should they do? Judging in relation to areas of social and political controversy. Formalist, realist and other accounts of judging.

5. Critical accounts of law. The possibility that law is structurally flawed, and contributes to inequality. Critical Legal Studies and feminist approaches to law.


Task Length % of module mark
Written Task (set question)
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Specified lecture and seminar slots are given over to assessment preparation, including evaluation of previous submissions, and surgery appointments to discuss assessment ideas.

Students have the opportunity to make a formative submission , of up to 750 words relating to the Written Task. There is a feedback opportunity in relation to the formative submission.


Task Length % of module mark
Written Task (set question)
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will receive ongoing feedback from tutors and peers on developing their understanding and skills during seminars.

Learning activities dedicated to assessment preparation.

Feedback in relation to a formative submission opportunity.

Individual feedback on summative submission, during Summer term and within standard Turnaround Time.

Indicative reading

John Gardner, Law and Philosophy in Simon Halliday (ed), An Introduction to the Study of Law (W. Green 2012) esp 24-29

James Penner and Emmanuel Melissaris, McCoubrey & White's Textbook on Jurisprudence (5th edn, OUP 2012)

Raymond Wacks, Understanding Jurisprudence (4th edn, OUP 2015)

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.