SMNR: Philosophy of Criminal Law

Class Unique: 28870
This seminar will examine the philosophical foundations of the criminal law. The purpose of the seminar is to facilitate a rigorous analysis of the principles, assumptions and theories upon which the doctrine and practice of criminal law rest. Consideration of these issues will provide an extra dimension for understanding and criticism of substantive criminal law, as well as an appreciation for the ramifications that philosophical disagreement and uncertainty have on the practices of criminal law. The following issues, among others, are likely to be discussed: whether we have an obligation to obey the law, and if so, why; the relationship between criminal prohibitions and "the harm principle"; the concept of so-called "moral luck"; moral agency and ramifications of the free will/determinism debate; whether there is an obligation to aid others; and justifications of punishment. The last-mentioned issue will be given the most attention: addressing whether (and to what extent) punishment is justified is important for its own sake, but also as a vehicle for exploring the theories of morality that infuse much of criminal law. The seminar has no pre-requisites of law or philosophy, other than completion of an introductory criminal law class. The seminar will be conducted in a philosophical manner, so each student will be expected to participate in rigorous analysis and discussion of the materials. Each student is required to complete a seminar-length research paper on a topic of his or her choice. Suggested topics will be distributed, but are intended as a guide only.

Class Details

Meeting Days Time Location
Friday 10:30 am - 12:20 pm TNH 3.127
Evaluation Method Date Time Alpha Range Room

Additional Information

Course Type


Farrell, Ian P Farrell, Ian P