Undergraduate Module Descriptor

POL2098: What is Law? Jurisprudence from Stone Tablets to Brain Imaging

This module descriptor refers to the 2017/8 academic year.

Module Aims

Despite tremendous changes in technology and culture, modern polities face many of the same challenges with law and legal institutions that were faced by early civilizations.  All political systems need to have mechanisms for solving questions about what the law is, about how it can adapt to new problems, and how to adjudicate complicated ambiguities.  However, law is typically heavily contested, from its foundations in morality, theology, custom, politics, etc. to the pragmatic details of how it is implemented and its varying effects on individuals and groups involved.


In thoroughly exploring the foundations of legal theory, you will examine arguments about the nature and sources of law from a very broad range of sources. You will delve into the debates about the moral standing of the law, its political efficacy, its ontological, epistemological, and theological sources.  You will explore these debates from a variety of perspectives: Eastern and Western, Ancient and Modern, Philosophical and Pragmatic.


With an understanding of these foundations in place, the course examines the degree to which these ancient questions and assumptions are altered by new work in biology and neuroscience.  Do we change our views about culpability when we know that a pattern of criminal behaviours arose only after a brain tumour?  How should treat work predicting criminal recidivism with brain imaging?  Does it matter that political and legal views change based on biological factors like genetics or even diet?  Is there something about law that is not merely contingent on what the judge had for breakfast or a citizen’s emotional state in the voting booth?


By the end of the course, you will be able to engage in complicated debates about human nature and translate them into practical consequences.  You will see connections between cutting age scientific research and old political, moral, and theological controversies.  You will understand the complications of law in diverse political bodies with ranges of competing beliefs, perspectives, and interests.  And, you will be able to engage with important political issues at the heart of some of the most complex controversies of the day.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

This module's assessment will evaluate your achievement of the ILOs listed here – you will see reference to these ILO numbers in the details of the assessment for this module.

On successfully completing the programme you will be able to:
Module-Specific Skills1. Integrate and analyse competing theories with diverse philosophical and methodological foundations
2. Understand the connection between metaphysical and epistemological assumptions and pragmatic implications in the context of law and policy.
Discipline-Specific Skills3. Develop rigorously supported arguments that are tightly connected to supporting evidence
4. Comprehend complex philosophical and scientific texts
Personal and Key Skills5. Write and communicate effectively while bringing together complex empirical and normative claims
6. Use appropriate strategies for anxiety management when faced with intellectual challenges at the edge of your competence
7. Learn how to achieve the psychological state of flow by increasing skills along with the complexity of the cognitive task