Western Legal Tradition

Questions?

  • University College
    202-885-6737
    universitycollege@american.edu
    Anderson, Room 1014

    Wyatt, Jamie J
    Associate Director, University College and Learning Communities

Mailing Address

JLS-110

Fall Semester Seminar, GenEd area 2

Have you ever wondered why you have the constitutional right to pursue your own happiness? Or why some scholars consider the philosophical godfather of the US Constitution - John Locke - to be morally bankrupt? Or perhaps you are more concerned as to why it is the US government refuses to sign up to certain international agreements, such as the Kyoto Agreement or the International Criminal Court?

The answers to these musings can invariably found in the development of legal theories and legal philosophy in the Western world. And it is the goal of this course - Western Legal Traditions - to introduce you to some of the most seminal and important works in the history of Western Law.

Starting over two millennia ago, the course will familiarize you with the groundbreaking works of Socrates and Plato, and the latter's troublesome student Aristotle. Tying the philosophers closely to their historical context, we then examine why Cicero was so horrified by the rise of Julius Caesar and the fall of the Roman Republic. We get to grips with the establishment of the Common Law and Medieval Christianity through the works of St Augustine, John of Salisbury and Thomas Aquinas, before we enter the Age of Reason, looking at the profoundly radical and important writings of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau.

We then plumb the difficult moral-legal waters offered to us by Utilitarianism and the Kantian Categorical Imperative, before examining why Marx simply wanted to get rid of the lot. After this revolutionary fervor, we finally get to the 20th Century and look at the developments in US and European jurisprudence and constitutionalism since the Second World War, culminating in the a look at the future with the establishment of a the first truly supra-national legal structure, the European Union, and the effects of trans- and international law on the sovereign state in an increasingly globalized world.

From the Professor- Bill Davis

How does your University College section of this course differ from a non-University College section?

The UC section is much smaller than a typical WLT class - probably around half the size, in fact. This means that the class resembles much more an upper-level seminar, allowing us that much more time and intimacy to get to the bottom of the issues we are discussing. I like to think of it as WLT on academic steriods.

How do your Wednesday labs tie into the academic content of your course?

Teaching a class like WLT in the District really is a match made in academic/nerdy heaven. So much of the history we discuss in class is manifest in the city - not least that seminal legal documents like the Constitution, Declaration of Independence or the Magna Carta are a 15 minute metro ride away.

Meet the Professor!

Professor Davies

Get to know Professor Davies' teaching style and learn more about his goals for this course

Learn more