Instructor(s): Peter Benson

For graduate students, the course number is LAW5044HF.

Note: Familiarity with philosophy is not presupposed.

Note: The Quercus program will be used for this course. Students must self-enrol in Quercus as soon as confirmed in the course in order to obtain course information.

The main aim of the course is to explore the theory of private law. It assumes that it is not enough merely to know the principles of private law and how to apply them. It is also important to see how they fit together and whether they reflect a conception of justice that is acceptable to citizens in a modern liberal democracy. We consider systematically whether the basic foundational principles of bodily integrity property, contract, wrongdoing, etc. can be so justified as well as the relation between private law and other social/political institutions.

To help us explore these and related questions, we turn for guidance to some of the most enduring writings on legal theory and legal philosophy. The objective is to go slowly and carefully in order to bring out as clearly as possible the strength and scope of the arguments in these texts. To allow for this, we focus especially first on Aristotles account of justice and then on Hegels philosophy of law. We also consider certain contemporary scholarship. These are truly fascinating arguments that deeply affect the way one understands the significance of private law and of law in general.

The course as a whole including the presentation of texts, lectures, class discussions, and evaluation presupposes no background whatsoever in philosophy of any kind or in legal theory.

Participation will count for 10% of the grade for all students. Students may choose one of the following: 1. Write a paper of about 6,800 words (90%). Paper topics should be discussed in advance with the instructor. If submitted on a timely basis, drafts will be read and commented upon. 2. Write three shorter papers (each about 2,300 words) (90%) drawn from questions distributed to students during the term, well before the exam period. Questions are based only on course readings and discussions and require no additional or outside reading. Students who choose this option must elect to do so before the first assignment is due. This format is geared to allow students to focus exclusively on course readings, secure in the knowledge that their efforts to come to terms with the texts will be directly reflected in their mode of evaluation. Students may satisfy the Perspective Requirement and complete a SUYRP in this course.

At a Glance

First Term
Perspective course


16 JD


T: 10:30 - 11:50
Th: 10:30 - 11:50