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Course Descriptions

Course Descriptions

Law and Philosophy: Risks, Wrongs and Harms (Fall 2017)

Course Description

This seminar will look at a series of related questions involving what philosophers tend to think of as rights, risk and responsibility and what lawyers think of as the philosophical issues raised by the law of torts and, to a lesser extent, crime. We expect to focus on three issues. One involves risks, rights and wrongs. Are wrongs violations of rights and, if so, does that mean that only people whose rights are violated can be wronged? Cases like Palsgraf v. LIRR raise this question. Mrs. Palsgraf was injured by the negligence of the LIRR but Judge Cardozo thought that she had no antecedent right that the LIRR exercise care for her benefit, because harm to her was not reasonably foreseeable. Judge Andrews disagreed. He thought that rights and duties were one thing, wrongs and liability were another. Other cases raise the issue of whether you can be wronged if you are not harmed. Some sexual assaults on unconscious victims may raise this issue.

This question of how harm and wrong related connects to the seminar’s second question: what is harm?  Is Are harms impairments of human agency in the way that physical injuries and disabilities are?  Or is anything that an economist would call a cost—anything that has to be given up to obtain something else—a harm? Or is an apparently intermediate possibility correct: Are harms setbacks to important interests? Should we say that someone who loses a business deal they would very much like to have landed has been harmed?  The third question is whether the numbers count and, if so, how and why? Each of us has only one life to live and to lose? Why are more deaths worse than fewer deaths? Who are they worse for? This question acquires practical urgency when we think about rescues. Why should we spend more (as we apparently do) to save actual lives that are in great danger and less to avoid the deaths of more people whose lives are not yet actually endangered?

 Requirements:  This will be a 3 credit course, meeting once for three hours.  A 15-20 page term paper will be expected, but a final exam might be an option, after consultation with the instructors. Weekly response papers will also be required. These papers will be no more than one to two pages and will react to the weekly reading assignments. Participation is required but it will not be graded.  The course may be taken CR/D/F only with the written permission of the instructors.

 Readings: The readings for the class will be drawn from papers and cases in law, philosophy and perhaps economics. .  

Course Details

  • Unit Value: 3
  • Grading Options: Numerical Only
  • Schedule: M 2:00 pm - 4:50 pm
  • Room Number: Room 118/120
  • Exam: Paper
  • Writing Requirement: Yes with submission of the Upper Division Writing Requirement Form.
  • Skills/Experiential Unit Requirement: no
  • Participation: Required but not graded