Jurisprudence--the study of legal philosophies, theories and perspectives--plays an important role in intellectual life of the Law Center. The word "jurisprudence" derives from jurisprudentia, a Latin term meaning the science or knowledge of law. The Georgetown jurisprudence curriculum encompasses at least three broad areas of study.
One area consists of studies of natural law, positivism, realism, and other centuries-old secular and religious legal philosophies, including the legal philosophies of major world religions and cultures. A second area consists of studies of modern American legal thought, including studies of legal realism, and law and literature, along with recent theories of law emphasizing the interests and perspectives of individual social groups, especially feminist legal theory, critical race theory, and gay legal studies. A third area consists of studies of legal, social, political, ethical, and bioethical concepts pertinent to an understanding of judicial process and public policy. In some instances a single jurisprudence course or seminar may include materials touching on all three areas of study.
Jurisprudence is not a required course at the Law Center. First-year students enrolled in Curriculum A may elect to take one of several jurisprudence courses that may be offered as first year electives. These relate to such topics as comparative legal philosophies, theories of economic reasoning, modern legal thought, and the concept of subordination. Two of the first year courses in Curriculum B have a substantial jurisprudential content: the Legal Justice Seminar and Democracy and Coercion. Democracy and Coercion looks at themes of consensual participation and collective force suggested by constitutional principles and case law. The Legal Justice Seminar provides an overview of major nineteenth and twentieth century American legal theories, highlighting scholarly expositions and judicial application of formalism, realism, legal process theory, law and economics, critical legal studies, critical race theory, feminist legal theory, and law and literature.
Second- or third-year students may elect to take the basic upperclass jurisprudence course typically offered each year under the name Jurisprudence. Although the precise content of the basic jurisprudence course will vary from instructor to instructor and from year to year, the course typically features a survey of natural law, legal positivism, and realism. These three competing accounts of the nature of legal authority, obligation, and reasoning once framed most discussions of jurisprudence in the United States. Georgetown's basic Jurisprudence courses generally extend beyond the triad of natural law, positivism and realism to include discussion of critical legal studies, feminism, and critical race theory. Some of the material covered in the basic jurisprudence course will be familiar to students who elected Curriculum B in their first-year of law school or who chose to take certain Curriculum A electives in the second semester of their first year. But all upperclass students are encouraged to deepen their understandings of jurisprudential issues through the upperclass Jurisprudence elective or other upperclass courses and seminars.
The Law Center offers a rich array of upperclass jurisprudence courses and seminars in addition to the basic course. Some of these examine the philosophical assumptions of the doctrines of common law, constitutional law, or statutory interpretation. Others trace the intellectual traditions that have helped to shape the law. Still others closely analyze particular law-related concepts and values -- including liberty, equality, neutrality, privacy, progress, community, rationality, due process, democracy, human rights, the social contract, and the market. The "isms" critical to understanding of American law, notably, liberalism, conservatism, republicanism, federalism, majoritarianism, and racism, have also earned a central place in jurisprudence courses or seminars. Competing moral and ethical perspectives are examined in a number of jurisprudence courses, as is the relationship between law and morality. Epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of language appear in jurisprudence courses to illuminate questions of knowledge, evidence, personhood, and meaning. Finally, jurisprudence courses tackle controversial public policy concerns, such as the death penalty, affirmative action, and environmental protection. Students who wish to satisfy their upperclass writing requirements in jurisprudence should consider one of many special interest jurisprudence seminars, including African-American Critical Thought, Conservatism in Law and Politics in America, Great Philosophers on Law (offered as a course or seminar), International Legal Philosophy (offered on the main campus, with a legal writing option), and Jewish Law Seminar.
J.D. Seminar (cross-listed) | 2 credit hours
This interdisciplinary seminar will examine theories of justice and the relationship between law and morality in light of religious and theological visions of the good life and accounts of order. Materials and discussions will probe questions such as: What are the moral values underlying the law? How does the law achieve justice or fall short of this goal? How can moral judgments be brought to bear, if at all, in modern, secular legal institutions and in the formation of public policies?
Throughout the class we will have opportunities to consider how morality and ideas of justice shape, and are shaped by, contemporary legal problems such as: the legal regulation of sexual activity and marriage, controversies regarding federally mandated health insurance, abortion, euthanasia and physician assisted suicide, immigration, regulation of financial institutions, and/or other issues which emerge as topics of particular student interest.
Particular attention will be paid to understanding methods for dialogue across differing thought systems and disciplines and to developing the skills for communication across claims that would otherwise tend to generate religious and political polarization.
This seminar requires a series of short reflection and reaction papers which aim to facilitate thoughtful and active student participation in seminar discussions throughout the course. This course does not satisfy the JD Upper Level Writing Requirement.
J.D. Course (cross-listed) | 2 credit hours
The subject matter is classical Roman law as it was born, developed, and reached maturity by about 160 CE. The first half of the semester focuses mainly on constitutional structures; the second part on contracts and tort, including practical exercises on reported ancient cases. Whenever is possible and useful, the expositions and explanations are given in a comparative manner vis-à-vis the common law of English origin. A student who completed this course should have enough knowledge and skill to begin a career of iurisprudent (wise person of the law); that is, they should be considered qualified to assist the Magistrate in his daily work at the Roman Forum; a position similar to that of clerking for an American judge.
J.D. Seminar (cross-listed) | 3 credit hours
The seminar will focus on contemporary legal theory and jurisprudence that aims to understand the ways in which race, class and gender influence our understanding of both the positive law we have and the justice to which we aspire. The jurisprudential assumptions in arguments for and against same sex marriage as well as the civil institution of marriage, for and against race, gender, and class conscious affirmative action plans in various contexts, and for and against greater progressivity in various tax regimes as well as entitlement systems, both real and imagined, will all be examined. The seminar will look in some detail at arguments regarding various aspects of the social welfare net, including arguments for its expansion to include greater assistance to poor families with the costs and burdens of both care and elder care. Finally the seminar will also look at constitutional, moral and politicial arguments pertaining to new found or hoped for individual or group rights, including rights to die, parental rights to homeschool, rights to disown one's genetic parenthood, rights to gun ownership, rights to gun control laws, "fat rights," and the possible abolition, shrinkage, or expansion of rights to birth control and abortion.
The seminar satisfies the writing requirement.