Philosophical Foundations of Law

Subject LAWS50127 (2016)

Note: This is an archived Handbook entry from 2016.

Credit Points: 12.5
Level: 5 (Graduate/Postgraduate)
Dates & Locations:

This subject is not offered in 2016.

Time Commitment: Contact Hours: 36 hours.
Total Time Commitment:

144 hours.

Study Period Commencement:
Credit Points:
November, Semester 2
Semester 1
Semester 1
Semester 2
Semester 2
Semester 2
Corequisites: None
Recommended Background Knowledge: None
Non Allowed Subjects: None
Core Participation Requirements:

The Melbourne Law School welcomes applications from students with disabilities. It is University and Law School policy to take all reasonable steps to enable the participation of students with disabilities, and reasonable adjustments will be made to enhance a student's participation in the School's programs.

The inherent academic requirements for the study in the Melbourne Law School are:

  1. The ability to attend classes and actively engage in the analysis of complex materials and debate;
  2. The ability to read, analyse and comprehend complex written legal materials and complex interdisciplinary materials;
  3. The ability to clearly and independently communicate in writing a knowledge and application of legal principles and interdisciplinary materials and critically evaluate these;
  4. The ability to clearly and independently communicate orally a knowledge and application of legal principles and interdisciplinary materials and critically evaluate these;
  5. The ability to work independently and as a part of a group;
  6. The ability to present orally and in writing legal analysis to a professional standard.

Students must possess behavioural and social attributes that enable them to participate in a complex learning environment. Students are required to take responsibility for their own participation and learning. They also contribute to the learning of other students in collaborative learning environments, demonstrating interpersonal skills and an understanding of the needs of other students. Assessment may include the outcomes of tasks completed in collaboration with other students.

Students who feel their disability will prevent them from participating in tasks involving these inherent academic requirements are encouraged to contact the Disability Liaison Unit:


Phone: +61 3 8344 4475

Subject Overview:

Philosophical Foundations of Law is an interdisciplinary subject, to be run by Law School faculty members, faculty members from the School of History and Philosophical Studies, and prominent members of the judiciary. The aim of this subject is twofold – first, to develop in students a high-level understanding of how legal rules embody, and reflect, important philosophical and moral notions which are themselves examinable; and, second, to develop in students a sophisticated approach to thinking about legal questions which employs philosophical rigour.

The subject will be structured around a series of seminars run by guests who are experts in the area on which they are speaking. Guests will include academics, legal practitioners, and members of the judiciary. Some seminars will involve two presenters, one an academic and the other a judge/practitioner. These combinations are designed to demonstrate the close relationship, and conceptual overlap, between the disciplines of law and philosophy. Subject coordinators will ensure thematic continuity throughout the subject by drawing out common threads which emerge from individual presentations and class discussions.

Particular topics to be covered will vary from year to year, but may include the following:

  • The ethics of humanitarian action: the laws of war and aid;
  • The role of moral concepts in the regulation of commercial activity;
  • The attribution of criminal responsibility, and the relevance of intention, motive, voluntariness and consequences;
  • The purpose and justification of criminal punishment, and the meaning and relevance of remorse;
  • Law and political philosophy - Mabo as a case study;
  • Individual autonomy and the duty of others to take reasonable care; and
  • How far do human rights notions account for our conception of justice?

Throughout the course of the subject, students will be encouraged to:

  • Identify, and engage with, philosophical concepts (such as autonomy, causation and good conscience) which underpin areas of substantive law;
  • Identify, and engage with, the frameworks of ethical and political theory within which substantive law has developed;
  • Identify, and engage with, the ethical and political choices which inform the development and application of substantive law; and
  • Develop habits of analytical rigour, logical analysis and linguistic precision, in both exposition and argument.
Learning Outcomes:

Students who successfully complete this subject will have developed and demonstrated:

  • A sophisticated appreciation of the close relationship, and conceptual overlap, between the disciplines of law and philosophy;
  • A deep understanding of the law and theory relevant to each of the principal topics examined;
  • The ability to express complex ideas and expound reasoned arguments; and
  • Specialised skills in self-directed legal research and the capacity to develop, sustain and reference argument in a thorough and persuasive way.

Three essays, on three different topics covered in class, of 2,000 words each (100%).

Prescribed Texts:

Readings will be made available before each class.

Breadth Options:

This subject is not available as a breadth subject.

Fees Information: Subject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date
Generic Skills:

Students who successfully complete this subject will have developed and demonstrated the following skills:

  • The ability to read and analyse a range of sources, including texts on ethical theory and political philosophy, related legal sources and interdisciplinary materials;
  • The capacity to engage in critical thinking, independent thought and reflection at an abstract level;
  • The capacity to communicate knowledge and understanding of complex ideas in oral and written forms;
  • The ability to write effectively in descriptive, analytical, critical and reflective modes;
  • The ability to undertake research involving diverse sources and prepare a piece of academic writing displaying sophisticated analysis, synthesis and theoretical understanding; and
  • The ability to apply philosophical method to legal analysis, to reason logically and to use language with precision.
Related Course(s): Juris Doctor
Related Majors/Minors/Specialisations: EMA 150 point program - full time over 1.5 years
EMA 200 point program - full time over 1.5 years
EMA 200 point program - full time over 2 years

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