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Philosophy of Law

Philosophy of law is concerned with the the foundations of law.

In the words of Hobbes: philosophy of law does not ask ‘what the law is, but what law is’. What is law then? A first, obvious answer would be: 'law is a set of rules that people have to obey.'

This answer raises many questions, however.

  • What is the origin of the rules? Why are there rules?
  • What is the contents of the rules? 
  • Do the rules form a system and logical whole?
  • Do they have to form a logical whole? How bad is it if this is not the case?
  • Which people have to obey the rules?
  • Why must people abide by the rules of the law? 
  • How do the rules of the law relate to morality?
  • How do the rules of the law relate to power, in particular to the power over the state?
  • Is there bad and good law? What are the criteria for such a judgment?
  • What is the rule of law? Is there such a thing as an unjust state?

And so on.

Philosophy of law deals with this type of questions. In Leiden we study these in a way unlike elsewhere. Departing from the idea that intellectual progress requires standing on the shoulders of giants, all the courses we give (and our research) are based on the study of Great Thinkers and Great Books have to say about law, morality and the state.

First of all, think of great philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Hobbes, Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger.

But the major religious works, such as the Bible, the Koran and the Baghavad Gita also belong to this Canon.

As do the greatest literary and historical works, such as those of Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Thucydides, Horace, Tacitus, Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and Kafka.

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