3TU.Ethics and OZSW Course ‘Morality & the Law’ (2013)

The Dutch Research School of Philosophy (OZSW) invites graduate students in philosophy for the course ‘Morality & the Law’, to take place in Spring 2013. The course is organized as part of the graduate program of the 3TU.Centre for Ethics and Technology, but OZSW members can also participate for free.

Dates: April 22-27.
Location: Delft University of Technology, TBM Faculty, 5 Jaffalaan, Delft
For programme click here.

The deadline for application is: 4/15/2013.
A decision on acceptance/rejection for this course will be sent by: 4/18/2013.

Structure & preparation

The course includes five 4-hour lectures in a Socratic style. Students will be expected to read at least some criticisms and comments on Rawls’ Theory of Justice, and seminal works by Austin, Hart, Dworkin, and Nozick. The lectures themselves will cover the entire work A Theory of Justice.

The participants are expected to read all the assigned literature, to actively participate in the discussions and to write a paper at the end of the course. Students will also be expected to give brief presentations (10-20 minutes) describing critiques, responses, and theories of major figures in modern theories of justice in the seminar-style lecture periods.

About the topic

Justice is a slippery problem for both philosophers and lawyers. Over time, dating from Plato’s forays into the topic with his dialogue The Republic, through Aristotle, Aquinas, and the modern dispute between natural law theory and legal positivism, no generally accepted general account of the relation between law and morality has been universally adopted. The practice of modern law is now largely positivistic in its approach, and philosophers still struggle to devise an account of what makes a law or legal system morally sound. Meanwhile, the demands of practical justice continue, and states enact laws, punish, and even go to war over issues they describe as relating to “justice.”

Among modern thinkers, two noteworthy defenders of modern notions of natural ‘rights’ or at least neo-Kantian deontology have recently passed  away: Rawls and Dworkin. We will focus on Rawls’ seminal work A Theory of Justice because it is comprehensive, both historically and theoretically. Rawls was well versed in both the history of debates about justice, and the legal regimes that try to enact it. One could gain a good philosophical grounding in basic ethics and the various theories of justice that have been debated for millennia just by reading this book. We will start with his text, critiques to it, and some excerpts from other major legal philosophers including the positivists Austin and Hart so that we can grapple with the debate, and see where modern notions of justice in its applied forms are going.

We will work through issues pertaining to the intersection of law and ethics or morality, specifically centering our research on the Twentieth Century’s leading legal philosopher, John Rawls. His work, A Theory of Justice, provides the framework for our investigation of the relations of legal norms with morality, and delves into the broad history of the field from Aquinas through Austin, Hart, Rawls himself, and Dworkin. Primary text will include A Theory of Justice and selections from Dworkin, Hart, and Austin. Rawls forms the basis for the major approach to justice in modern liberal democracies, but he is not the final word, and other approaches are still vying for dominance as institutions for justice continue to globalize. Understanding these historical and theoretical trends will be important for those who intend to work in policy arenas in any context.

Course objectives

Students should gain an understanding of both the history of attempts to define Justice and the theoretical implications and limitations of the various attempts discussed. Students will be able to describe and critique approaches to justice, work with practical examples, and define the problem of justice broadly. Students will present brief summaries and syntheses of major theories of justice and their critiques.


The course is free for advanced 2nd year research master students and PhD students who are a member of the OZSW. All other students pay a fee of 250 euro.

How to apply for the course

Please send an e-mail to secretariaat@ozsw.nl with a(n) attachment(s) containing:

  • your contact details (email address, telephone number and postal address),
  • a brief motivation for taking part in the course.
  • whether you are a 2nd year research master student or a PhD student
  • if the latter: a description of your PhD project (500 words)

The deadline for application is: 4/15/2013.
A decision on acceptance/rejection for this course will be sent by: 4/18/2013.

In case of too many applications, the coordinator of the course will make a selection. In general, priority will be given to OZSW PhD students over research master students and philosophy research master students over external applicants.

Course coordinator & lecturers

The course is organized and taught by dr. David Koepsell, a philosopher and attorney working at TU Delft.

More information

For further information related to the contents of this course, please contact the coordinator at the following e-mail address: d.r.koepsell@tudelft.nl. For practical inquiries, please contact secretariaat@ozsw.nl.