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Brian Leiter : Courses and Seminars

Advanced Topics in Moral, Political, and Legal Philosophy
LAWS 78603
The topic for Winter 2016 is “Etiological/Genealogical Critiques of Concepts, Beliefs and Values.” If you had been brought up in a different family, or a different culture, your religious and moral beliefs would likely have been very different than they are—perhaps even your beliefs about the world around you. Should this fact bother us? Should the origin of our beliefs and values make us skeptical about them, or should it lead us to revise them? Historians and social scientists, from Marvis Harris to Ian Morris, have regularly proffered etiological/explanatory accounts and think they have debunking implications; recently, a number of Anglophone philosophers have begun to address variations on this question, including G.A. Cohen, George Sher, Sharon Street, and Roger White, among others. But interest in the etiology (or genealogy) of beliefs and values, and its significance, long predates these 20th-century writers. We will also give extended consideration to at least Herder, Hegel, Marx and Nietzsche—time permitting, perhaps some others.
Winter 2016
Brian Leiter, Michael Forster
LAWS 41601
An examination of the federal rules governing proof at trial. On many points, the rules of most states are the same or similar (New York and California have the most differences, though even they have significant overlap with the Federal Rules). There will be somewhat more lecture than in a typical course, in order to facilitate coverage of material. Even so, certain relatively minor or easy topics will not be covered (Burdens of Proof, Presumptions, Judicial Notice), and others will be covered only briefly (e.g., Privileges, Impeachment of Witnesses). Approximately two-thirds of the term will be devoted to the two central topics in the law of evidence: relevance and hearsay (including the hearsay exceptions). The student's grade is based on a proctored final examination.
Winter 2016
Brian Leiter
Jurisprudence I: Theories of Law and Adjudication
LAWS 47411
An examination of classic jurisprudential questions in and around the theory of adjudication: the theory of how judges actually do decide cases and how they ought to decide them. These questions include: Do legal rules really constrain judicial decision-making? What makes a rule (or norm) a rule of the legal system? Are principles of morality legally binding even when such principles have not been enacted into a law by a legislature? (Relatedly, are there objective principles of morality?) When no legal norm controls a case, how ought judges to decide that case? Can there be right answers to legal disputes, even when informed judges and lawyers disagree about the answer? Are there principles or methods of legal reasoning that constrain judicial decision-making, or is legal reasoning essentially indeterminate, such that a skillful judge can justify more than one outcome for any given dispute? Is judicial decision-making really distinct from political decision-making of the sort legislators engage in? Readings drawn exclusively from major twentieth-century schools of thought - especially American Legal Realism (e.g., Karl Llewellyn, Jerome Frank), Natural Law (e.g., Ronald Dworkin, John Finnis), and Legal Positivism (e.g., H.L.A. Hart, Joseph Raz) - supplemented by other pertinent readings (from Leslie Green, Richard Posner, and the instructor, among others). No familiarity with either jurisprudence or philosophy will be presupposed, though some readings will be philosophically demanding, and the course will sometimes venture into (and explain) cognate philosophical issues in philosophy of language and metaethics as they are relevant to the core jurisprudential questions. Attendance at the first session is mandatory for those who want to enroll. Take-home essay exam.
Spring 2016
Brian Leiter