Abbate’s Philosophy of Law Syllabus

Philosophy of Law (PHIL 320)
Dr. Cheryl Abbate
University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Assistant Professor of Philosophy
Office Location: Online-WebEx; T &Th: 2:30-3:45

Communication Policy
My preferred method of contact is e-mail: During the week, you can expect to receive a response from me within the 24 hours after you send an e-mail. Please note that I may be away from my computer some weekends, so you should expect a response from me within the 48 hours after you send an e-mail over the weekend. 

About the Course

Course description
In this course, we will consider controversies about the law in general and the U.S. system in particular. Questions may include: What is law? What should the law prohibit (e.g., abortion, gun possession, affirmative action, hate speech)? Is there a moral obligation to obey the law? Can civil disobedience be justified? How do we justify punishing those who break the law? Is capital punishment morally justifiable?

*All course readings will be posted online; there is no required textbook.

Learning Outcomes:
By the end of the course, you should be able to:
• Describe the concept of law
• Understand the dominant legal theories in philosophy, the main objections to the dominant legal theories, and the major disputes between these theories
• Apply the dominant theories of law we discuss to applied topics
• Compare and contrast the dominant legal theories, especially in regard to their application to the applied topics we cover in class
• Develop one’s own ideal legal theory by building upon the theories discussed in class
• Evaluate the dominant legal theories, especially as they intersect with the applied topics we cover in class
• Impartially critique one’s own “ideal” approach to legal theory

Course Overview

This course is organized in such a way that you will remain actively engaged not only with the course material, but also with each other. You will be expected to do the following:
• Read, understand, and evaluate the assigned readings
• Post a response on the Canvas Discussion Board to a question related to the course readings for that week 
• Post a response to one of your classmates Canvas Discussion Board Post 
• Actively participate in class discussions (both on Canvas and on WebEx)

Student Responsibilities/Class Assignments

Quizzes: Most weeks, there will be two reading quizzes. The quizzes will be a mixture of T/F, multiple choice, and short answer questions. For the most part, each quiz will contain 4 questions, and you will have 12 minutes to complete each quiz. I will provide further guidance about “unusual” quizzes (i.e., quizzes that don’t take this form). Take good notes on both the lecture videos and the assigned readings before taking the daily quizzes. 

Discussion Board Posts: There will be at least one weekly discussion forum, and in some cases, two. For each discussion forum, I will post a question for you to answer. In some cases, you’ll be required to read a short online article before answering the week’s question. Discussion posts should be between 300-350 words. Posts that are not at least 300 words will receive, at most, half credit. Each week, you must respond to one of your classmate’s discussion posts. You will be put into a “discussion group” at the start of the semester (a group of 5 students), and you will remain in this same group throughout the semester. Responses to classmates should be between 100-150 words.

Theoretical Paper: For this assignment, you will write a short (4-5) page paper, applying legal theory to the documentary Unlocking the Cage. Please review the “Theoretical Paper Assignment” document on Canvas for a detailed description of the assignment (this assignment will be made available 2 weeks before the due-date).

Final Project: Relating Legal Philosophy to Contemporary Life. For this assignment, you will be required to find a recent (no more than two years old) news article about a some controversial applied legal topic. You will be required to address the topic and argue for a solution by appealing to a defensible legal principle of your choosing. This paper should be 8-10 pages, double spaced. Please review the “Relating Legal Philosophy to Contemporary Life” document on Canvas for a detailed description of the assignment. Note:

  • You must submit your paper topic (with a recent online news article about the topic) on October 26th (students who fail to do so will lose 5 points from their final project grade)
  • You must turn in your formalized argument and paper introduction on November 9th

Participation: To receive participation in this class, you should respond to at least one of your classmates’ discussion forum posts each week (responses should be between 100-150 words).  In your responses, you must somehow further the conversations, such as by presenting an objection to something a classmate says or by pointing out some morally relevant consideration that your classmate missed. Simply writing something along the lines of “I agree with what you said” will not get you any participation points! There are 15 weeks of class, and for each week, you have the possibility of receiving 1 participation point. I will assign these points at the end of each week, so there are no surprises at the end of the semester.  You can also receive participation points by actively participating in the WebEx Discussions.

WebEx Discussions: While all lectures will be posted online in the form of a video, we will have weekly required WebEx discussion meetings. For the most part, these meetings will occur on Thursdays (although there is one week when we will have meetings on Tuesday). You should come to these meetings having read the assigned articles & having watched the assigned videos (including the video lecture) for that day. Note that these meetings are purely discussion based– I will not lecture at all, as I will expect that you will have watched the video lectures for the week before the WebEx discussions. You should come to the discussion sessions prepared with thoughtful questions about the week’s topics, objections to the arguments covered that week, comments, etc. These weekly discussion meetings are required, and will last for one hour, but I am happy to stay longer to chat with those who have lingering questions/thoughts about the week’s topics.  Our meetings will take place at our scheduled class time (1:00-:2:00).

“Extra Credit”:*If your participation is excellent in this course (i.e., if you consistently leave good quality forum posts and consistently participate in the WebEx sessions in meaningful ways), I will bump your final grade up one half a letter grade.


Grading Criteria

25%: Quizzes
30%: Discussion Board Posts
5% Theoretical Paper on Unlocking the Cage
5%: Formalized Argument & Paper Introduction
20%: Final Project (Relating Legal Philosophy to Contemporary Life Assignment)
15%: Participation

Course Schedule

Assignment Due dates

Major Assignments

  • September 17th: Theoretical paper due
  • October 26th: Paper topic & news article due
  • November 9th: Formalized argument & paper introduction due
  • Finals Week: Final project due (Relating Legal Philosophy to Contemporary Life)

Reoccurring Assignments

  • Reading Quizzes are due by 11:59 p.m. on Tuesdays & Thursdays
  • Discussion Forum Posts are due by 11:59 p.m. on Tuesdays & Thursdays
  • Responses to classmates are due by 11:59 p.m. on Fridays

Weekly Schedule (All readings are subject to change!)


Week 1: Introduction to Jurisprudence 

  • Tuesday
    • Read: The Syllabus
    • Watch: Welcome/Introduction Video
    • Write: Class Introduction
    • Answer: Syllabus Quiz
  • Thursday
    • Read: Lon Fuller, “The Case of the Speluncean Explorers”
    • Watch: Lecture Video
    • Write: Discussion Forum 1
    • Answer: Quiz 1
    • *WebEx Discussion


Week 2: Natural Law Legal Theory & Legal Positivism 

  • Tuesday
    • Read: Kenneth Himma, “Natural Law [legal theory]”
    • Watch: Lecture Video
    • Write: N/A
    • Answer: Quiz 2
  • Thursday
    • Read: Kenneth, Himma “Legal Positivism”
    • Watch: Lecture Video
    • Write: Discussion Forum 2
    • Answer: Quiz 3

Week 3: Legal Realism

Week 4: Feminist Jurisprudence

  • Tuesday
    • Read: Martha Fineman, “Feminist Legal Theory”
    • Watch: Lecture Video
    • Write: N/A
    • Answer: Quiz 5
    • WebEx Discussion
  • Thursday
    • Read: Martin Luther King, Jr., “A Letter from a Birmingham Jail” & Brian Burns “The Power of Provocation”
    • Watch: “Animal Rights Extremists: Trespassing to Rescue Chickens” & “Why Direct Action? A Talk by Wayne Hsiung” & Lecture Video
    • Write: Discussion Forum 4
    • Answer: Quiz 6


Disobeying the Law

Week 5: Civil Disobedience, Protests, Property Damage, & Confederate Statutes

  • Tuesday
    • Read: Kimberlee Brownlee, “Race, Rioting & Civil Disobedience,” Chris Lebron “Time for a New Black Radicalism,” & Rigina Rini “The Language of the Unheard”
    • Watch: Kimberly Jones on “How Can we Win?” & Video Lecture
    • Write: Discussion Forum 5
    • Answer: Quiz 7
  • Thursday
    • Read: Travis Timmerman, “A Case for Removing Confederate Monuments” & Dan Demetriou “The Racial Offense Objection to Confederate Monuments: A Reply to Timmerman”
    • WatchThe Rise and Fall of Silent Sam” & Lecture Video
    • Write: Discussion Forum 6
    • Answer: Quiz 8


Constitutional Law

Week 6: 1st Amendment: Freedom of Religion & Religious Exemptions

  • Tuesday
    • Read: Reva Siegel & Douglas NeJaime, “Religious Exemptions and Antidiscrimination Law in Masterpiece Cakeshop”
    • Watch: “SCOTUS Same-Sex Wedding Cake Decision” & Lecture Video
    • Write: Discussion Forum 7
    • Answer: Quiz 9
  • Thursday
    • Read: John Corvino, “Drawing a Line in the ‘Gay Wedding Cake’ Case”
    • Watch: John Corvino on “Bakers, Freedom, & the Law,” John Corvino on “Is Gay Marriage a Threat to Religious Freedom?” John Corvino on “What’s Wrong with Wedding Discrimination?” & Lecture Video
    • Write: n/a
    • Answer: Quiz 10
    • *WebExDiscussion

Week 7: 1st Amendment: Free Speech: Offensive Speech and

  • Tuesday
    • Read: John Stuart Mill, selections from On Liberty, & Caroline West, “Freedom of Expression and Derogatory Words”
    • Watch: Snyder v. Phelps & Lecture Video
    • Write: Discussion Forum 8
    • Answer: Quiz 10
  • Thursday
    • Read: Sarah Sorial, “Hate Speech and Distorted Communication: Rethinking the Limits of Incitement”
    • Watch: Lecture Video
    • Write: n/a
    • Answer: Quiz 11
    • *WebExDiscussion

Week 8: 1st Amendment: Free Speech and Pornography

  • Tuesday
    • Read: Catherine MacKinnon, “Sexuality, Pornography, and Method: ‘Pleasure under Patriarchy’”
    • Watch: Gail Dines talk on “Growing Up in a Pornified Culture” & Lecture Video
    • Write: Discussion Forum 10
    • Answer: Quiz 12
  • Thursday
    • Read: Ronald Dworkin, “Women & Pornography”
    • Watch: Lecture Video
    • Write: n/a
    • Answer: Quiz 13
    • *WebExDiscussion

Week 9: 1st Amendment: Free Speech and Ag Gag Laws

  • Tuesday
    • Read: C.E. Abbate, “Veganism, (Almost) Harm Free Meat, and Nonmaleficence”
    • Watch: Lecture Video
    • Write: Discussion Forum 11
    • Answer: Quiz 14
  • Thursday
    • Read: Justin Marceau, “Ag Gag Past, Present, and Future”
    • Watch: Lecture Video
    • Write: Discussion Forum 12
    • Answer: Quiz 15
    • *WebExDiscussion

Week 10: 2nd Amendment: The Right to Bear Arms

  • Tuesday
    • Read: Michael Huemer, “Is There a Right to Own a Gun?”
    • Watch: Michael Huemer on “The Moral Case Against Gun Control” & Lecture video
    • Write: Discussion Forum 13
    • Answer: Quiz 16
  • Thursday
    • Read: Reva Siegel & Joseph Blocher, “Why Regulate Guns?” & David DeGrazia, “Handguns, Moral Rights, and Physical Security”
    • Watch: Lecture Video
    • Write: n/a
    • Answer: Quiz 16
    • *WebExDiscussion

Week 11: 14th Amendment: Equal Protection and the Prison System

  • Tuesday
    • Read: Erinn Gilson, “The Perils and Privileges of Vulnerability: Intersectionality, Relationality, and the Injustices of the U.S. Prison Nation”
    • Watch: Lecture Video
    • Write: Discussion Forum 14
    • Answer: Quiz 17
  • Thursday
    • Read: n/a
    • Watch: 13th
    • Write: Discussion Forum 15
    • Answer: n/a
    • *WebExDiscussion

Week 12: 14th Amendment: Equal Protection and Racial Profiling

  • Tuesday
    • Read: Adam Omar Hosein, “Racial Profiling and a Reasonable Sense of Inferior Political Status”
    • Watch: Jamil Jivani on “How Racial Profiling Hurts Everyone, Including the Police” & Lecture Video
      • Recommended: Racial Profiling 2.0: Full Documentary (23 minutes)
    • Write: Discussion Forum 16
    • Answer: Quiz 18

Week 13: 14th Amendment: Equal Protection and Affirmative Action

  • Tuesday
    • Read: Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Group Rights” and Racial Affirmative Action”
    • Watch: Lecture Video
    • Write: Discussion Forum 17
    • Answer: Quiz 19
  • Thursday
    • Read: Shelby Steele, “Affirmative Action”
    • Watch: “Asian-Americans accuse Harvard of bias” & “Harvard admissions case could end Affirmative Action” & Lecture Video
    • Write: n/a
    • Answer: Quiz 20
    • *WebEx Discussion

Sex and the Law

Week 14: Consent & the Law

  • Tuesday
    • Read: Tom Dougherty, “Sex, Lies and Consent”
    • Watch: Lecture Video
    • Write: Discussion Forum 18
    • Answer: Quiz 21
  • Thursday
    • Read: Danielle Bromwich & Joseph Millum, “Lies, Control, and Consent: A Response to Dougherty and Manson” & Sherry Colb, “The Jerusalem “Rape by Deception” Case: Can a Lie Transform Consensual Sex Into Rape?”
    • Watch: “’Rape by fraud?’ College student case will help expose loophole in rape laws,” Lecture Video & Zoe Brereton by “Policing Consent: Seduction, Lies, and the Limits of Rape Law”
    • Write: Discussion Forum 19
    • Answer: Quiz 22
    • *WebEx Discussion 

Week 15: Victimless Sex Crimes

  • Tuesday
    • Read: Morgan Luck, “The Gamer’s Dilemma”
    • Watch: Video Lecture
    • Write: Discussion Forum 20
    • Answer: Quiz 23
  • Thursday
    • Read: Stephanie Patridge, “Pornography, Ethics, and Video Games”
    • Watch: Video Lecture
    • Write: n/a
    • Answer: Quiz 24
    • *WebExDiscussion


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