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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Law : Law

Postgraduate Course: Natural Law: An Historical Introduction (LAWS11373)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Law CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course explores the genesis and development of natural law theories, from Ancient Greece to the early modern period. It will focus on the most primary sources on natural law, which would then form the basis for debate.
Course description Description: Natural law is one of the most debated and controversial ideas of the entire Western legal culture. While one of the oldest legal concepts, it is also one of the most important in contemporary legal debates. The concepts of fundamental rights and, more recently, of human rights arguably stem from the notion of natural law. But what do we actually mean by natural law? The answer is surprisingly multifaceted, for natural law meant different things at different times. The best way to approach this subject, therefore, is a historical analysis of the most important jurists and thinkers who dealt with it, from ancient to modern times.

From Ancient Greece and medieval Europe to modern times, this historical introduction to natural law will focus on the most important scholars who wrote (or taught) on the subject, to appreciate the diversity of their positions while contextualising their thought in the historical and intellectual context in which they lived.

Course Outline: The course will start with what may be considered the birth of natural law, the conflict between written and eternal law in Sophocles masterpiece, Antigone. Then we shall focus on the thought of Aristotle, Plato and the Stoics, followed by the idea of natural law in Roman law. After that, we will move on to the early Christian concept of natural justice, for it is there (especially with St Augustine) that we shall find some of the clearest examples of the tension between voluntarism (natural law as the product of a superior will i.e. God) and intellectualism (natural law as the result of the intrinsic and objective goodness of a certain behaviour). Then, we will move on to the concept of natural law in canon law (i.e. the law of the Christian Church), and the crystallisation of ethical principles into legal rules which took place mostly with the Decretum of Gratian and the jurists commenting upon it.

We will be then in a position to approach one of the greatest and most influential thinkers of all times Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas influence on the concept of natural law is still extremely important even today, after more than seven centuries! Indeed, it would make very little sense to discuss of natural law without some knowledge of Aquinas thought. In the late middle ages, natural law was put to a hard test with the discovery of the Americas: few, if any, of the rules that the Europeans took for granted (as fundamental, or natural) was followed by the inhabitants of Central and South America. Should those people be forced to follow them? We shall discuss this and other questions focusing especially on Vitoria and Suarez. In many ways, the second of the two represents the highest moment of Thomism and of the school of thought that took its name from it (the so-called Second Scholasticism).

After Suarez, we will leave the South and move to Northern Europe, to look at the Reformation and its momentous consequences on the idea itself of natural law. We will thus explore how the thought of Martin Luther and John Calvin influenced the development of natural law in Reformed countries. This way, we will reach some of the most famous and influential jurists of the early modern period in northern Europe, such as Hugo Grotius, Samuel Pufendorf, and Christian Thomasius. Comparing them, we will realise the progressive (slow but clear) secularisation of natural law ideas. We will conclude the course analysing the political use of natural law concepts by some of the best known early modern thinkers, from Hobbes to Locke.

Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2019/20, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  25
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 22, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 196 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) One essay worth 100% (5,000 words)
Feedback Feedback will be provided during each seminar, encouraging discussion, testing ideas and refining approaches to the texts. Written feedback will be given on the formative essay
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. critically identify, define and analyse complex concepts and appreciate their development over time
  2. acquire a deeper knowledge and understanding of important legal works and of their interaction with philosophical issues;
  3. Demonstrate advanced skills in reading, understanding and adopting an independent critical position in relation to complex material; and
  4. enhance their oral and written communication skills through essays and active participation to the debate in class.
Reading List
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills The course will encourage the students to engage with primary sources and to refine their critical and analytical skills. It will help them to develop a critical approach to texts and ideas, and to become more conscious of the historical development of the latter.
Keywordsnatural law. history of legal philosophy
Course organiserDr Guido Rossi
Tel: (0131 6)50 2052
Course secretaryMiss Lauren Ayre
Tel: (0131 6)50 2010
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