Legal Philosophy or Jurisprudence – broadly understood as the philosophical inquiry into the nature of law and the values it should serve – has a long and distinguished tradition at UCL Laws
Our former professors in the subject include two canonical legal philosophers: John Austin, one of the most influential exponents of classical legal positivism and an advocate of utilitarianism, and Ronald Dworkin, the leading contemporary critic of legal positivism and a key figure in the revival of rights-centred approaches to law and politics.
The Quain Chair of Jurisprudence is an established professorship devoted to the study of legal philosophy. Past holders of the Quain Chair include the political philosophers G.A. Cohen (2008-10) and Ross Harrison (2006-7), Ronald Dworkin (1998-2005), the legal theorists William Twining (1983-1996) and Lord Lloyd of Hampstead (1956-1980), and the legal scholar and law reformer Glanville Williams (1945-1955).
Currently, the Quain Chair is held in a Visiting capacity by the Yale legal philosopher .
The jurisprudential tradition at UCL continues to flourish. A large number of faculty members conduct research in jurisprudence and related areas of legal theory and philosophy. They include:
- (private law theory)
- (constitutional theory)
- (feminist legal theory)
- (philosophy of criminal law)
- (European constitutionalism and governance)
- (philosophy of law and religion)
- (constitutional theory)
- (general jurisprudence; philosophy of human rights)
- (philosophy of labour law and human rights)
- (philosophy of anti-discrimination law)
- (philosophy of contract law)
- (Bentham Studies)
- (general jurisprudence)
- (feminist legal theory; international legal theory; post-colonial theory; critical theory; queer theory)
We are united not by adherence to any common set of jurisprudential doctrines, but by a joint commitment to the use of clear and rigorous philosophical argumentation to probe some of the deepest problems of law and society.
A shared focus, in keeping with the Benthamite ideals of the founders of UCL, is the aim of relating law to fundamental ethical values in order to achieve an enhanced appreciation of how law can be a force for good in the lives of individuals and societies.
Members of the Jurisprudence Group work closely with other networks within the Faculty, including the and the Public Law Group.
The Faculty hosts the annual Quain Lectures in Jurisprudence, which are given by a leading figure in legal or political philosophy and are published by Oxford University Press.
Through the activities of the we also maintain close teaching and research links with members of the UCL Department of Philosophy and the . Together with scholars from Philosophy and Politics, the Faculty of Laws co-ordinates the running of a Colloquium in Law, Politics and Philosophy which takes place in Terms 2 and 3 of the academic year.
As part of an on-going collaboration with we co-host the UCL-Yale Legal Philosophy Workshop in Term 3. The Faculty has collaborated with Yale on a number of other projects in legal and political philosophy, including workshops and symposia on the nature of law, the philosophy of private law, and the ethics of markets and economic inequality.
The UCL Legal Philosophy Forum is a more informal discussion group for work-in-progress in legal philosophy, which is run by UCL research students.
In addition to such ongoing activities, the Faculty has organised major international conferences on philosophical themes including the philosophical foundations of aspects of private and public law.
Research by Faculty members addresses a diverse, and continually changing, array of topics. This includes questions concerning the general nature of law and legal adjudication, and questions about the conceptual and normative underpinnings of particular areas of law, including seeing law through the lens of gender and race theory, as well as those in particular areas of law such as constitutional theory, the philosophy of international law, human rights and labour law, medical law and ethics, and the ethics of markets and the philosophy of criminal law and contract law.
There is also a strong focus on the history of legal philosophy, exemplified primarily by the world-famous which was established in 1959 and is based in the Faculty. The mission of the Bentham Project is to produce the new authoritative edition of the Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham.
We have many opportunities for graduate students who wish to study legal philosophy. In addition to our PhD programme, we offer a large number of interdisciplinary postgraduate courses in legal and political philosophy as part of one or more of the following degrees: the MA in Legal and Political Theory and the MA in Human Rights, and the (with specialisation in Legal Theory).
- The Quain Lectures in Jurisprudence
An annual Quain Lecture was established in 2012, with the inaugural lecture being given by of Princeton University. From 2013, the format was changed to a series of three lectures, delivered usually within the space of a week. A special session on each year’s lectures is held under the auspices of the Colloquium in Law, Politics and Philosophy.
The Quain Lectures are convened and edited by Laws Faculty members and are published by Oxford University Press.
Previous Quain lecturers include:
- , University of Stirling (2016)
- , Harvard University: Free by Default (2015)
- , University of Oxford: From Personal Life to Private Law (2014)
- , King’s College London/ Columbia University: The Normativity of Law (2013)
- Philip Pettit, Princeton University: Legitimacy and Justice (2012)
- Colloquium in Law, Politics and Philosophy
The Colloquium was founded in 1998 by Professor Ronald Dworkin, formerly Quain Professor of Jurisprudence.
The Colloquium brings together expertise in legal and political philosophy from around UCL and beyond. It features leading legal, political, and moral philosophers who discuss work-in-progress.
Speakers over the years have included philosophers whose work has had a major impact in contemporary philosophy, such as Simon Blackburn, GA Cohen, John Finnis, Rainer Forst, Samuel Freeman, Charles Fried, Frances Kamm, Christine Korsgaard, Onora O’Neill, Joseph Raz, Samuel Scheffler, Amartya Sen, Bernard Williams, and many others.
Colloquium in Law, Politics & Philosophy – Spring 2019
Date & Time
8 January 2019
29 January 2019
26 February 2019
12 March 2019
23 April 2019
07 May 2019
- UCL-Yale Legal Philosophy Workshop
As part of a collaboration with we co-host the Legal Philosophy Workshop in Term 3. Sessions are held at Yale and UCL. The Workshop aims to encourage transatlantic dialogue between leading experts in legal and political philosophy through the discussion of work-in-progress.
- UCL Legal Philosophy Forum
The Legal Philosophy Forum is convened by research students in jurisprudence. It is a forum for discussing work-in-progress within or outside UCL.
The Forum welcomes papers on any theoretical aspect of law. Meetings start with a presentation of 30 minutes by the speaker, followed by discussion and refreshments.
To express interest in presenting a paper or for further information regarding the Forum please email us at: