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Queen's University

Legal Theory at Queen's


The Faculty of Law and Department of Philosophy at Queen’s offer a wide variety of courses in legal theory to undergraduate and graduate students in law and philosophy. Course offerings in legal theory will be expanding shortly. Recent offerings are listed below.

The Faculty and Department would be pleased to hear from prospective students interested in graduate work with our legal theorists.  More information on our graduate programs is provided below.

Recent Courses in Legal Theory – Faculty of Law

Advanced Jurisprudence (Green)
This seminar treats current issues in legal philosophy, examining recent work by legal theorists working in the analytic tradition.   Though without formal prerequisite, it is intended for those who have already studied Jurisprudence, or a similar relevant course in legal or political philosophy. 

Contract Law Theory (Pratt)
This is a course in the theory of contract law. One of the richest areas of private law, the law of contract raises a host of absorbing issues and problems that no first year course in the subject can begin to address in any detail. Some of the most fascinating of these issues concern the nature of the relationship between contracts and promises. What are promises, and why are we obligated to perform them? How – if at all – do these reasons relate to those that underlie the legal obligation to perform contracts? Such questions will frame much of our discussion in this course. The readings in this course will be drawn primarily from the legal and philosophical literature and will include few judicial decisions. While no background in legal theory or philosophy will be presumed, you should be prepared to read and write about some challenging philosophical and theoretical concepts."

Crime, Fault and Responsibility (Thorburn)
This course will explore the role of law as a coercive institution. In particular, we will focus on the most drastic and most obvious institution of state coercion – the criminal law. In order to understand this role better, we will explore two related themes: the primacy of legal rules and the secondary, supporting function of punishment; and the importance of ideas of fault and responsibility in criminal law. In order to understand the later discussion of punishment, fault and responsibility, we will begin with an introduction to the structure of law as a system of rules. We will distinguish traditional notions of punishments as threats (Austin) or prices (Holmes) and the response of H.L.A. Hart in The Concept of Law emphasizing the centrality and independence of legal rules. We then move to the central problems concerning fault and responsibility in Canadian criminal law. We will focus particularly on two issues: the application of objective fault standards and the appropriate structure of defenses such as self-defense, duress and necessity. In this discussion, we will also consider how and why we ought to treat the concept of fault differently in the criminal and civil contexts.

International Norms of Minority Rights (Kymlicka) - For much of the postwar period, international law contained few if any provisions specifically targeted at the protection of ethnocultural minorities. In recent years, however, particularly since 1990, there has been an explosion of interest in codifying minority rights, both within the United Nations and within regional bodies, such as the Council of Europe or the Organization of American States. This course will consider a number of issues by these developments, including (a) why minority rights emerged as a priority for the international community in the post-Cold War era; (b) the categories that are used to identify different types of minorities, such as `indigenous peoples', `national minorities', and `migrant workers', and how these are viewed as raising different types of challenges; and (c) the consequences, both intended and unintended, of this process of codifying international minority rights norms on state-minority relations around the world. More generally, the course will attempt to identify the progressive potential in this process, but also some of the moral ambiguities and political complexities involved.

Jurisprudence (Essert/Thorburn/Green) - This seminar will examine the central debates in general analytic jurisprudence, the study of the nature of law. We will discuss questions about the nature of legal obligation, the authority of the law, the relationship between law and morality, the nature of adjudication, and the overarching question: what is law? We will read and discuss writing by authors including John Austin, H.L.A. Hart, Lon Fuller, Ronald Dworkin, Leslie Green, Joseph Raz, and Scott Shapiro.

Legality and the Rule of Law (Green) - This seminar explores the nature and value of the rule of law through a critical examination of the work of some contemporary legal philosophers.  Among the problems we consider are the following: What features in a legal system contribute to realizing the rule of law? What is "legality"? What is the relationship between the rule of law and the rule of good law? Is it always a virtue, other things being equal, to apply valid legal rules? How far is the rule of law consistent with the indeterminacy of law or with discretionary decision-making? Is the rule of law, as E.P. Thompson once suggested, an "unqualified human good"? Should the rule of law ever be sacrificed for sake of other goods?  

Information on courses currently offered in the Faculty of Law is available here:

Recent Courses in Legal Theory – Department of Philosophy

Philosophy of Law (Sypnowich) - This course introduces students to some of the central concepts in the philosophy of law or jurisprudence.  Jurisprudence concerns the theory of law and as such straddles the disciplines of law and philosophy, both the principles of legal institutions and the ideals of legal order.  At the heart of the philosophy of law is the question of how the rules of the coercive state might justly intervene in individual freedom.  We will consider writings from classic jurisprudence as well as contemporary debates.  Possible topics include the relation between law and morality, the idea of the rule of law, natural rights and legal rights, the idea of an obligation to obey the law, punishment and responsibility.  These problemsuestions and others will be pursued in order to acquire a grasp of the central ideas and arguments of political philosophy as well as the skills to assess and critique them.

Topics in the Philosophy of Law: The Rule of Law (Sypnowich) - The rule of law is often associated with an authoritarian idea of political power, where the rule of the state commands unquestioning obedience.  In fact, however, the concept refers to normative criteria which law must meet for it to have legitimacy.  Law must be predictable, certain, forward-looking, clear, general and specific.  In short, law must be capable of being obeyed, and this requires that the law’s application be fair.  This course examines the ideal of the rule of law, critiques made of it, and some cases where the rule of law is vulnerable or undermined.  In particular, we will be concerned to assess the rule of law’s relation to impartiality, privacy and social justice.

Information on current courses in the Department of Philosophy is available via the following links:

Graduate Programs – Faculty of Law

The Faculty of Law welcomes expressions of interest from students who wish to embark upon a program of graduate work in law specializing in legal theory.

The Faculty of Law offers two graduate programs – the LL.M. and Ph.D. Entry is in each case ordinarily conditioned upon the successful completion of a J.D. or equivalent undergraduate law degree.

Detailed information on the graduate programs offered by the Faculty of Law is available via the following link: 

Prospective students who have verified that they are eligible for admission to either program are invited to make inquiries about supervision with individual members of faculty.

Graduate Programs – Department of Philosophy

The Department of Philosophy encourages interest from students who wish to engage in advanced study of legal philosophy through its graduate programs.

Two graduate programs are made available by the Department – the M.A. and Ph.D.  Detailed information on these programs is available via the following link:



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