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This course seeks to understand the nature of law and justice and, in particular, the relationship between the two, in contemporary society. The point of departure will be a consideration of the character of justice. Since this is an enduring philosophical question, posed differently at different times, it will be approached historically. We examine what some of the key thinkers in the philosophical and jurisprudential tradition from the Greeks to the present-day have understood about the nature of justice. The focus will be not only on explaining and critically analyzing different general theories of justice, but especially upon determining how these theories articulate the specific relation (or lack of relation) between justice and law.

Not only will the course analyse different theories of justice, but it will also put the ideas, gained through such analysis, to work by considering a number of contemporary problems concerning law and justice. For example, what are the criteria of justice and how in modern circumstances might we ground these? Is it helpful to understand modern law on the model of either distributive or corrective justice? Is any interpretation of law always based on an understanding of legal justice? And what are we to make of various claims to justice, for instance, international justice, intergenerational justice, historical or transitional justice?

Main Topics

  • Introduction the problem of Law and Justice via an examination of Plato’s Republic
  • Aristotle’s theory of justice and its legacy (corrective and distributive justice; questions of justice requiring good judgment)
  • From theories of law and justice conceived in terms of natural law to natural rights and social contract theory (Aquinas, Hobbes, Locke and Kant and Rawls)
  • Non-contractualist theories of law and justice: Hume, the Utilitarians and particularly Hegel
  • Legal justice and justice as interpretation; Dworkin, and Gadamer
  • Marx’s critique of all prevailing conceptions of legal rights, the rule of law and justice.
  • Justice in a pluralist society; the just (secular) state; the just multicultural state and Global justice.
  • The contemporary Frankfurt School’s theories of law and justice in terms of theories of discourse and recognition.
  • Feminism, the ethic or care and the critique of legal justice.
  • The post-structuralist deconstruction of law and justice.
Faculty Faculty of Law
Study Level


Offering Terms

Term 1, Term 2, Term 3



Indicative contact hours


Course Outline

To access course outline, please visit:


Pre-2019 Handbook Editions

Access past handbook editions (2018 and prior)

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