SMNR: Legal Liberalism

Course Information

Registration Information

Meeting Times

Day Time Location
TUE 3:45 - 5:35 pm TNH 3.124

Evaluation Method

Type Date Time Location


In my usage, “legal liberalism” refers to a jurisprudential position on the content and structure of valid legal argument in a society that is committed to instantiating a liberal conception of justice.  I believe that the United State is such a society, know that post-World-War-II Germany is such a society, and think that many other countries are so as well.  Legal liberalism claims that in such societies arguments that examine the concrete extensions of liberalism (of its placing a lexically-highest value on those moral-rights bearers for whom it is responsible being treated with appropriate, equal respect and concern) are not only generically legally valid but are dominant.  Such arguments are dominant in the sense that (1) they control both the legal validity of other modes of argument that legal actors have used to identify the answer to legal-rights questions that are correct, not incorrect, or wrong as a matter of law and the variants of these other modes of legal argument that are valid and (2) with one limited exception, they determine the answer to any legal-rights question to which they are applicable that is correct as a matter of law.

The writing seminar will begin by discussing various moral concepts and delineating two philosophically-informed empirical protocols for identifying respectively the moral category to which a particular society belongs and the moral norm to whose instantiation a particular society of moral integrity is committed.  It will then consider the abstract definition and extensions of liberalism and various non-liberal conceptions of the moral good.  After that, the course will examine the implications of liberalism for the resolution of various contract-law, tort-law, property-law, civil-procedure-law, antitrust-law, and constitutional-law issues in a liberal-moral-rights-based-society.  It will also address various alternative positions on the content and structure of valid legal argument in the U.S. that have been taken by U.S. legal scholars and judges.

Course grades will primarily be based on a paper that students will have to submit by the end of the exam period.  The Lecturer may revise upward the grade of any student whose class-participation was particularly valuable. The paper for this seminar can either (1) analyze in detail the jurisprudential assumptions that teachers of one or two courses they have taken were making and/or that the authors of the textbooks and scholarly articles that were assigned in these courses were making or (2) address from a liberal perspective one or more legal-rights claims and/or their treatment by U.S. judges and legal scholars. Student who choose to write the second type of paper will have to secure advanced approval of the proposed paper from the Lecturer. Students will be expected to submit a draft of their paper no later than three weeks before the end of classes. The Lecturer will then discuss with each student his or her draft.

Textbooks ( * denotes required )

Matters Of Principle *
Markovits, Richard S.
New York University Press
ISBN: 978-0-8147-5513-6


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