Spring 2021 - PHIL 326 D100

Topics in Law and Philosophy (3)

Legal Epistemology

Class Number: 2246

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Fr 9:30 AM – 12:20 PM

  • 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.


Selected Topics: Legal Epistemology (previously offered as "Legal Guilt & Punishment")

(Note: students that have taken the Fall 2019 offering of PHIL 326 with the topic "Legal Guilt & Punishment" may NOT take this course for further credit. It will be considered a repeat.) 

Legal practice in Canada and in the United States appeals to a wide variety of epistemological concepts and principles. It involves the ideas of proof, evidence, doubt, testimony, expertise, reasoning and so on. This course questions various epistemological issues raised by Canadian and American legal practices. We will especially focus on various legal standards—i.e. beyond reasonable doubt, preponderance of the evidence, and the reasonable person standard—and the philosophical issues that arise from them. Questions to be discussed may include:

  • How do courts reason about causation?
  • Why does evidence have probative value?
  • Are there any good reason to exclude probative evidence in a court of law?
  • Should legal standards of proof be sensitive to practical factors?
  • Do epistemic notions like sensitivity, safety, reliability, knowledge, and justification have legal import?
  • Should luck play a role in determining legal guilt?


PHIL 326 is required for students doing a Philosophy Major or Minor with a Concentration in Law and PhilosophyIt may also be applied towards the Certificate in Ethics: Theory and Application. This course can be repeated for credit under a different topic. 

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 legal epistemology using philosophical arguments and methods


  • 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%


Course delivery: remote, synchronous. Online presence is required during scheduled lecture time.


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.



Remote learning for this semester requires a computer or tablet, camera, microphone, and internet access. Headsets are advisable but not necessary. Students have access to free Office 365 or Adobe Creative Cloud found here . If students do not have reliable access, they should inform their instructor and contact the IT desk to see if a loaner computer can be arranged. There is one computer lab on campus for limited access. Classes will be conducted on Zoom. It is recommended that students use broadband wired or wireless (3G or 4G/LTE) internet connection, with bandwidth of at least 1.5Mbps (upload and download).


Class readings will be made available in 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


Teaching at SFU in spring 2021 will be conducted primarily through remote methods. There will be in-person course components in a few exceptional cases where this is fundamental to the educational goals of the course. Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning (caladmin@sfu.ca or 778-782-3112).