Law and Philosophy

The Law School offers an extremely broad and deep program of interdisciplinary study in law and philosophy, with attention to both the major historical figures and contemporary problems. Whether you are coming to law study with an undergraduate or graduate degree in philosophy, or simply with an interest in philosophical questions without significant formal background in the field, you will find a wide array of opportunities to pursue those interests and develop your knowledge during your three years at the Law School. The Law School particularly welcomes students with philosophical interests who may be interested in careers in law teaching and legal scholarship; the Law School has long been one of the top producers of new law teachers in the U.S.

The faculty

Three full-time members of the law faculty have significant interests in law and philosophy: Brian Leiter, Martha Nussbaum, and David Strauss.

Brian Leiter is best-known for his philosophical reconstruction and defense of the jurisprudence of American Legal Realism and his exploration of the implications of the naturalistic turn in philosophy for the problems of general jurisprudence. Many of his important papers on these topics are collected in Naturalizing Jurisprudence (Oxford, 2007). He is also a leading Nietzsche scholar, with a particular interest in Nietzsche’s moral philosophy, and is responsible, with his Nietzsche on Morality (Routledge, 2002), for the renewed scholarly interest in the idea that Nietzsche is a philosophical naturalist. His other published papers treat such topics as the objectivity of morality, legal positivism, religious toleration, the epistemology of evidence law, the intersection of moral and empirical psychology, and aspects of the philosophies of Marx and Foucault.. He was editor for seven years of the journal Legal Theory and is now editor, with Mr. Green, of Oxford Studies in the Philosophy of Law.

Martha C. Nussbaum has made seminal contributions to the study of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy (especially Aristotle and the Stoics), central problems in political philosophy (especially developing the Capabilities Approach to human well-being and reassessing and expanding the Rawlsian theory of justice), the defense of cosmopolitanism as a moral, political, and pedagogical ideal, the philosophy of the emotions, and the study of literature as a source of moral knowledge. Her many books include Frontiers of Justice: Disability, Nationality, Species Membership (Harvard, 2006), Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (Princeton, 2004), Upheavals of Thoughts: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge, 2001), Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach (Cambridge, 2000), Sex and Social Justice (Oxford, 1999), The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Greek Ethics (Princeton, 1994), Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (Oxford, 1990), and The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (Cambridge, 1986). All of her work has been deeply engaged with major figures in the history of philosophy, including not only the major Greek and Roman philosophers, but also, in the modern era, especially Kant and Mill. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

David A. Strauss has been a leading contributor to constitutional law and theory for more than twenty years, with a particular interest in philosophical problems that arise in interpreting and applying the U.S. Constitution. His many influential articles include “Legitimacy and Obedience” (Harvard Law Review, 2005), “Common Law, Common Ground, and Jefferson’s Principles” (Yale Law Journal, 2003), “Constitutions, Written and Unwritten” (Law and Philosophy, 2001), “What Is Constitutional Theory?” (California Law Review, 1999), “Principle and Its Perils” (University of Chicago Law Review, 1997), “Common Law Constitutional Interpretation” (University of Chicago Law Review, 1996), and “Persuasion, Autonomy, and Freedom of Expression” (Columbia Law Review, 1991). He is, with Geoffrey Stone and Dennis Hutchinson, editor of the Supreme Court Review. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Each year the Law School also hosts a “Law and Philosophy Fellow,” a recent Ph.D. in philosophy with legal interests, who is an active participant in the intellectual and curricular offerings related to law and philosophy at the Law School. The first Law and Philosophy Fellow was Scott Anderson (Ph.D., University of Chicago), Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia. The Law and Philosophy Fellow for 2008-09 is James Staihar (J.D., Harvard University; Ph.D., University of Michigan), who works in philosophy of criminal law, general jurisprudence, and bioethics, among other areas.

Many other members of the law faculty have interests in philosophical aspects of law, including Richard A. Epstein, Lee Anne Fennell, Richard McAdams, Eric Posner, Richard Posner, and David Weisbach.

The curriculum

First Year: All 1L students take “Elements of the Law” in the Autumn Quarter. Unique to legal education at Chicago, “Elements of the Law” examines certain issues that occur in many different areas of the law and considers the relationship between these issues and comparable questions in other fields of thought, such as moral and political philosophy, economics, and political theory. In the Spring Quarter, 1L students may choose an elective; there are usually one or more philosophical offerings available.

Second and Third Year: There are a wide range of electives available to law students with philosophical interests during their second and third years of study.

“Jurisprudence I: The Nature of Law and Adjudication” is offered every year by Mr. Leiter, and, most years, he also offers “Jurisprudence II: Topics in Moral, Political, and Legal Theory.” Together, these courses cover the central issues in legal philosophy, including the relationship between law and morality, the duty to obey the law, and the nature of legal reasoning and judicial decision, as well as cognate topics such as the nature of meaning and interpretation (in law and elsewhere), the objectivity of law, free will and responsibility, liberty and its limits, conceptions of the just society and the good life, liberalism and illiberalism, and critical theories of society and law.

Mr. Green, Mr. Leiter, Ms. Nussbaum, Mr. Strauss, and Mr. Sunstein offer seminars on a regular basis on topics of interest to students of law and philosophy. Recent topics include “Constitutional Theory and Interpretation”; “Constitutionalism and Democracy”; “Education and Moral Psychology”; “Equality as a Political Value”; “Feminist Philosophy”; “Legal Reasoning”; “Legality and the Rule of Law”; “The Letters of Cicero and Seneca”; “Methodology in Jurisprudence”; “Mill”; “Nietzsche and Foucault: Morality, Self, and Society”; “Political Obligation and Civil Disobedience”; “Rawls and His Critics”; “Religion and the State”; and “Toleration: Its Justification and Limits.”

Law & Philosophy Workshop

The Law & Philosophy Workshop exposes students to cutting-edge work in "general jurisprudence," that part of philosophy of law concerned with the central questions about the nature of law, the relationship between law and morality, and the nature of legal reasoning.

Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Values

The Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Values sponsors speakers and conferences to support and encourage the reflective, critical and philosophical study of human values, with a particular emphasis on the conceptual, historical, and empirical foundations of the normative systems—moral, political, and legal—in which human being live.