Philosophy of Law

Philosophy 34, Spring 2013

An overview of the course

Students taking this course will learn how legal philosophers analyze important but poorly understood concepts such as “law,” “obligation,” and “rights.” We will discuss different views on the nature of the law, paying special attention to their implications for judges. We will examine the moral, legal, and economic dimensions of a right to privacy. Finally, we will look at punishment, addressing questions about the justification of punishment and the propriety of punishing merely attempted crimes. Those who complete the course should have significantly deeper understanding of the law as a social institution, the specific practices that I listed, and techniques of analysis and argument.

The course emphasizes arguments and writing. Students who successfully complete this course will learn how to construct arguments, how to interpret analytical writing, how to raise objections to arguments, and how to write extended analytical essays of their own. There will be extensive opportunities to practice these skills through discussions during class sessions. Grades reflect how well these skills are exhibited in written papers and exams.

The class

Class picture


The syllabus (PDF) contains a schedule of topics for discussion, readings, and assignments. It also describes the standards for grades and other policies for the class.


The assignments for this course include:

  1. Short test preview (PDF)
  2. First paper topics (PDF)
  3. Second paper topics (PDF)
  4. Final exam preview (PDF)

You may want to consult my advice on writing philosophy papers.


The best way for registered students to access the site is through Sakai. The Sakai site has links to everything you see here but it also has announcements and pdf files of the readings. When the term ends, the Sakai site will no longer be published but this site will still be here.

Contact Michael Green

My office is Pearsons 207. My email address and office phone number are available from the Pomona College directory: select Faculty/Staff and enter my name.

My home page has links to websites for my other courses.

Michael Green


  1. January 23. Natural Law (handout, PDF)
  2. January 28. Austin’s positivism
  3. January 30. Hart’s criticisms of Austin
  4. February 4. Hart’s positivism
  5. February 6. Legal realism
  6. February 11. Hart on judicial interpretation
  7. February 13. Test day
  8. February 18. Separating law and morality
  9. February 20. Fuller on Hart
  10. February 25. Speluncean explorers 1
  11. February 27. Speluncean explorers 2
  12. March 4. Scalia’s originalism (updated March 26) :: Scalia’s originalism (handout, PDF)
  13. March 6. Scalia vs. Dworkin
  14. March 11. Dworkin on rights
  15. March 13. Hart’s theory of rights :: Bentham’s Benefit Theory of Rights (handout, PDF)
  16. March 25. Hart on natural rights
  17. March 27. Feinberg on rights
  18. April 1. Claiming and rights
  19. April 3. Privacy in the Private Law (updated April 5)
  20. April 8. Privacy in Constitutional Law :: Privacy in the Constitution (handout, PDF)
  21. April 10. Thomson on privacy
  22. April 15. Economics of privacy
  23. April 17. Responsibility and causation
  24. April 22. Punishment :: Punishment (handout, PDF)
  25. April 24. The expressive theory of punishment
  26. April 29. The right to punishment
  27. May 1. Criminal attempts
  28. May 6. The punishment lottery