Fall 2019 - PHIL 326 D100

Topics in Law and Philosophy (3)

Legal Guilt and Punishment

Class Number: 10649

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 10:30 AM – 11:20 AM
    AQ 5030, Burnaby

    Th 9:30 AM – 11:20 AM
    WMC 2507, Burnaby

  • Prerequisites:

    One of PHIL 120W (or equivalent), 121, 220, 221, ENV 320W, or with permission of instructor.



Explores in detail classic problems in the law using the methods and resources of philosophy. Topics may include: problems in professional ethics facing lawyers; philosophical issues in international law and human rights; constitutional interpretation and the philosophy of language; the assessment of evidence and formal epistemology; the intellectual origins of the theory of natural law and natural rights; or others. Students may repeat this course for further credit under a different topic.


Legal Guilt and Punishment  

This course examines some fundamental moral and epistemological issues surrounding the concepts of legal guilt and punishment. Questions to be discussed may include:  

  • What justifies a state imposing legal punishment on its citizens?
  • Should one be punished for things outside of one’s control?
  • Is it ever acceptable for a state to punish someone for something they didn’t do?
  • What roles do testimony and probability play in determining guilt in tort and criminal law?
  • In what way, if any, are standards of proof sensitive to pragmatic or practical factors?


By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Identify and reconstruct philosophical arguments
  • Write upper-level undergraduate philosophy papers
  • Conduct independent research
  • Engage with fundamental philosophical issues in law using philosophical arguments and methods

PHIL 326 may be applied towards the Certificate in Ethics: Theory and Application (see our website for more details).


  • 4 short in-class assignments (5% each) 20%
  • Short midterm paper (1200 words) 30%
  • Final term paper (2500 words) 45%
  • Participation (contributions to class discussions or office hours) 5%


Written work for this course will be submitted via Turnitin, a third party service licensed for use by SFU. Turnitin is used for originality checking to help detect plagiarism. Students will be required to create an account with Turnitin, and to submit their work via that account, on the terms stipulated in the agreement between the student and Turnitin. This agreement includes the retention of your submitted work as part of the Turnitin database. Any student with a concern about using the Turnitin service may opt to use an anonymous identity in their interactions with Turnitin. Students who do not intend to use Turnitin in the standard manner must notify the instructor at least two weeks in advance of any submission deadline. In particular, it is the responsibility of any student using the anonymous option (i.e. false name and temporary e-mail address created for the purpose) to inform the instructor such that the instructor can match up the anonymous identity with the student.



Class readings will be made available on Canvas.

Department Undergraduate Notes:

Thinking of a Philosophy Major or Minor? The Concentration in Law and Philosophy? The Certificate in Ethics? The Philosophy and Methodology of Science Certificate?
Contact the PHIL Advisor at philmgr@sfu.ca   More details on our website: SFU Philosophy

Registrar Notes:

SFU’s Academic Integrity web site http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html