Philosophy (120 EC): Philosophy of Law, 2018-2019

Philosophy of Law is a specialisation of the MA Philosophy 120 EC.

Generally, students will be enrolled in two master’s programmes: the MA Philosophy 120 EC, and an LLM programme in Law.

Structure of the programme

The two-year programme consists of the following components:

MA courses in the chosen discipline outside philosophy (for a total of 40 EC)

Students complete 500-level LLM courses in Law for a total of 40 EC. In principle, these courses should form a coherent combination of subjects. These non-philosophical courses will be included in both master’s programmes.

Specialist courses (for a total of 40 EC)

Students complete four mandatory courses, which are selected for the specialisation Philosophy of Law (10 EC each). Please be informed that there will be two mandatory courses on offer each year.

Optional courses in Philosophy (for a total of 20 EC)

Students select two optional courses in philosophy (each 10 EC), which can be spread over two years. Course topics are varying from year to year.

Master’s thesis, thesis seminar, and exam (20 EC)

The MA programme will be concluded by a master’s thesis of 20 EC. The master’s thesis is an independent academic contribution to philosophy in the field of Philosophy of Law. Students follow the compulsory Thesis Seminar during the semester in which the thesis is being written. Before graduation students sit for a final exam for which they defend their thesis.


As students will generally be enrolled in two master’s programmes the MA Philosophy 120 EC requires a careful planning. Please see More info (below) for additional information about the planning. Students are strongly advised to set up their studyplan in consultation with the Coordinator of Studies before the start of the programme.

Further information

For additional information concerning the objectives of the programme, the master’s thesis and requirements for graduation, see More info.

Leidse combinatie: recht en filosofie

Participants in the Leidse combinatie who have completed the LL.M Encyclopedie en filosofie van het recht are exempted from several components of the specialisation Philosophy of Law (see More info). These students follow a programme that consists of 60 EC.

First Year / Second Year

Leidse combinatie

More info

Description of the specialisation
Objectives and achievement levels
Master’s thesis and requirements for graduation
De Leidse combinatie
Contact data

Description of the specialisation

Philosophy of Law

Law is a peculiar institution in modern societies. It permeates all areas of life and guides our everyday interactions in all sorts of ways. But what is law actually? What makes certain rules law and others not? And what makes something into a rule anyway? Should we identify law as codified law or can we find law in other places as well? What is the proper method for finding law? What sorts of reasoning do legal practitioners use when they seek to apply the law to a case?

In addition to these analytical questions there are the big normative questions about good law. What is the rule of law? Why is it so desirable? Are there limits as to what the law can demand from us? Do we have a (moral) duty to obey the law? What does justice require from the law? These and other questions come up in one form or other in the specialisation Philosophy of Law.

Objectives and achievement levels


The programme has the following objectives:

  • to enable students to acquire academic knowledge, understanding and skills, and train them in the use of scientific methods in the field of the philosophy of a discipline;
  • to enable students to develop the following academic and professional skills:
    -independent academic reasoning and conduct,
    -the ability to analyse complex problems,
    -the ability to clearly report academic results, both in writing and orally;
  • to prepare students for an academic career and further education;
  • to prepare students for a career outside academia.

Learning outcomes

Graduates of the programme have attained the following learning outcomes, listed according to the Dublin descriptors:

Knowledge and understanding

  • knowledge and understanding in the field of the history, foundations, methodology and/or ethics of the discipline, based on but surpassing the level of a bachelor’s degree in philosophy of the specific discipline;
  • knowledge and understanding with regard to the social and cultural meaning of philosophy in general and the philosophy of the discipline in particular;
  • knowledge and understanding of the main elements of philosophy of the discipline and the problems, methods and key terms of these elements. This knowledge and understanding surpasses the level that is acquired upon completing a bachelor’s programme in philosophy of a specific discipline and forms the basis of the independent development and application of original ideas, understanding and analyses.

Applying knowledge and understanding

  • the ability, based on the acquired knowledge and understanding, to make a contribution to ongoing discussions in the field of philosophy of the discipline, and in new and complex contexts related to philosophy.


  • the ability, on the basis of the deepened knowledge of philosophy acquired during the programme, to deal with complex philosophical problems, and to formulate judgments based on information from different kinds of sources, even when this information is incomplete or uncertain;
  • a realistic view of the reliability of their own conclusions;
  • the ability to integrate different approaches to philosophical questions and/or compare them with each other.


  • the ability to give a clear explanation of philosophical problems, ideas, theories, interpretations and arguments, for specialist audiences as well as for a general audience;
  • the ability to write philosophical papers that show the potential to approach the level of articles in national and international academic journals in the field of philosophy.

Learning skills

  • the possession of learning skills that allow graduates to continue their study of philosophy more or less independently within a research context, and to draw up a research proposal for a PhD.



The two-year MA programme in Philosophy (120 EC) offers five specialisations, in which students are able to combine the study of philosophy with a non-philosophical discipline:

  • Philosophy of Humanities
  • Philosophy of Law
  • Philosophy of Natural Sciences
  • Philosophy of Political Science
  • Philosophy of Psychology

Combining two master’s programmes

Students are expected to hold a bachelor’s degree in the discipline of the chosen specialisation, which enables them to follow the non-philosophical component of their master’s programme at the faculty or department of the chosen discipline. Students who have already obtained a master’s degree in the chosen (non-philosophical) discipline are normally exempted from this part of the programme.

Full-time and part-time

The programme offers both full-time and part-time tuition. The part-time programme is offered as a daytime course. The full-time programme spans two years (including the non-philosophical component), the part-time programme spans three years. The only difference between the two programmes is in the length of time required for their completion; in content they are identical.


The MA Philosophy (120 EC) consists of five components:

  • 40 EC / MA or MSc courses in the chosen discipline outside philosophy
  • 40 EC / Four mandatory (specialist) courses in philosophy of the chosen discipline
  • 20 EC / Two optional courses in philosophy
  • 20 EC / Master’s thesis and Thesis Seminar

It is required that students choose their optional courses in philosophy from the courses that are selected for their specialisation, and that the subject of their master’s thesis belongs to the field of their specialisation. Furthermore, the 500-level courses outside philosophy (for a total of 40 EC) must be completed in the academic discipline specified in the name of their specialisation.


A maximum of 10 EC of the non-philosophical component of the MA programme in Philosophy 120 EC can be replaced by an internship. If more than 10 EC have been obtained for the internship the extra credits will be recorded as extra-curricular components on the diploma supplement.


A possible planning of the two-year programme is presented below. Please note that the sequence of the various components of individual programmes may deviate from the scheme proposed due to the availability of courses in a particular semester, or to the extent to which the non-philosophical part of the programme has already been completed. Keep in mind that there will be one specialist course on offer each year, therefore one of these mandatory courses must be completed in the first year and the other one in the second year.

As students will generally be enrolled in two master’s programmes the MA Philosophy 120 EC requires a careful planning. Students are strongly advised yo discuss their programme with the Coordinator of Studies before the start of their first semester.

First Year

  • 30 EC / LLM courses in Law
  • 20 EC / Two mandatory (specialist) courses Philosophy of Law
  • 10 EC / One optional course in philosophy

Second Year

  • 10 EC / LLM courses in Law
  • 20 EC / Two mandatory (specialist) courses Philosophy of Law
  • 10 EC / One optional course in philosophy
  • 20 EC / MA thesis and Thesis Seminar

Depending on the number of enrolments the specialist courses will be offered either as a full seminar or as a series of tutorial sessions.

Master’s thesis and requirements for graduation

Requirements for graduation

In order to graduate, students must have successfully completed the 120 EC programme and have completed their final thesis as a component of that programme. The master’s thesis is an independent academic contribution to philosophy in the field of the chosen specialisation. The student is required to write a master’s thesis in the second year of the MA Philosophy (120 EC) – normally in the last semester.

Attainment levels

The master’s thesis should clearly show that the student meets the attainment levels which have been set for this programme in terms of knowledge and skills. More specifically, the master’s thesis and the working method for the thesis should demonstrate that the student:

  • has acquired knowledge of systematic philosophy and its history, and of recent developments in contemporary philosophy, that is founded upon and extends that associated with the bachelor’s level, and that provides a basis for originality in developing and applying original ideas and analyses;
  • knows the discussions in the forefront of their field, and is able to take part in them;
  • is able to contribute to current discussions on philosophy and in new and complex contexts related to philosophy;
  • is able to handle philosophical complexity and to formulate judgments based on information from diverse sources, even if this information is limited or incomplete;
  • has a realistic view of the tenability and reliability of his/her own conclusions;
  • is able to integrate or confront different approaches to philosophical questions;
  • in short, is able to write philosophical papers, the quality of which comes close to that of articles in refereed journals in the field.

Formal requirements and assessment criteria

The thesis for the MA Philosophy (120 EC) has a workload of 20 ECs, and the length of the thesis is normally approximately 20,000 words. Depending on the subject, the student and the supervisor may agree on a different length. Other formal requirements that the thesis must satisfy are listed in the Protocol Graduation Phase

Agreements and supervision

The thesis must be supervised by a staff member of the Leiden Institute for Philosophy. The agreements relating to the planning and supervision of the writing of the MA thesis are set out in writing by the student and the supervisor in the Agreements relating to the MA thesis form (see Protocol above). The agreements include details on the choice of subject of the thesis, on the frequency of sessions with the thesis supervisor and the manner of supervision, and on the phasing of the research leading up to the thesis.

Final examination

The master’s thesis shall be defended as part of the final examination. The grade of the master’s thesis is determined by the examiners after the questioning (defence of the thesis) in the MA examination. Graduation is possible at any time during the academic year, except for July. However, graduation within the current academic year is only guaranteed when the final draft of the thesis has been approved of by the supervisor and sent to the Board of Examiners not later on June 15th.

De Leidse combinatie

Voor studenten die de specialisatie Philosophy of Law willen volgen en aan de Universiteit Leiden de MA-specialisatie Encyclopedie en Filosofie van het Recht hebben afgerond, bestaat een verkorte toegangsroute tot de MA Philosophy (120 EC). Bovendien krijgen zij in de masterfase vrijstelling voor de volgende onderdelen: MA courses in Law (40 EC) en twee van de zes courses in Philosophy (20 EC).

Contact data

Specialisation coordinator

Dr. B.J.E. (Bruno) Verbeek
For questions relating to the contents of the programme.

Coordinator of Studies

Coordinator of Studies of the MA Philosophy 120 EC.
For questions relating to programme requirements, planning, regulations, graduation, etc.