Law, Justice, and Morality

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Moral Problems and Human Rights

Course Description





Course Outline and Readings

Instructions for Papers

Paper Topics 1

Paper Topics 2

Paper Topics 3

Paper Topics 4

Paper Topics 5

Course Description for Law, Justice, and Morality

This course will consider a variety of issues related to the proper reach and extent of the law. We will consider each issue from the point of view of moral philosophy and constitutional jurisprudence. Our aim is two fold: first, to understand some of the arguments on each side of these issues and second, to come to some understanding of the related processes of moral reasoning and constitutional interpretation. The introduction to the course will raise the second theme and we will return to explicitly re-consider it at the end of the course. But the nature of moral and constitutional reasoning will be an implicit part of every discussion.

Our goal in discussing each moral problem will not be to find the one correct answer to each moral question. Rather, we will try to explore the very many difficult questions—of both a general and more particular nature—that these issues raise. By doing so, the course aims to help all of us become better prepared to come to grips with the variety of moral issues that we will have to address in the future as citizens and in our work.

After a brief introduction to moral philosophy and constitutional interpretation, in the second section of the course we will examine some of the central arguments that have been offered for civil liberty and rights. In the third part of the course we will consider questions having to do with how far individuals and organizations can claim certain freedoms and liberties against the state or society at large. In the fourth section of the course we will examine various problems having to do with  racial and sexual equality. In the fifth section of the course, we will consider questions about the justification and proper extent of punishment in the criminal law. Finally, at the end of the course we will return to the question of the nature of constitutional interpretation and its relation to moral philosophy.

The suggested paper topics for this course  focus more on looking at the issues we deal with from the standpoint of moral philosophy than from that of constitutional law. This distinction is partly artificial, since moral considerations certainly play some role in constitutional interpretation. But the topics ask you to make a moral argument, rather than an argument based on your interpretation of the constitution. Students who wish to write papers focused more on the constitutional and  legal issues are welcome to do so. I would be happy to suggest revised topics that better suit this approach.