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Social sciences and humanities

Subject: PHILOSOPHY OF LAW (A.A. 2022/2023)

single-cycle master degrees (5 years) in LAW

Course year 1
Teaching units Unit Philosophy of Law
Philosophy and Law (lesson)
  • TAF: Basic compulsory subjects SSD: IUS/20 CFU: 9
Teachers: Gianfrancesco ZANETTI
Exam type
Teaching language English
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Gianfrancesco ZANETTI


The course has two aims: 1) the student will accurately read one of the masterpiece of the (not only) Italian philosophy of law, and 2) the student will develop, through this reading, a solid basis of the history of philosophy of law made by arguments.

Admission requirements

The course is in English. It is necessary to underline that a "good" knowledge of the language is not requested (as usually certified by courses made by private institutes). An elementary knowledge of English is sufficient, as well as, obviously, a certain concentration ability.

Course contents

Gianbattista Vico's philosophy of law represents the core of the course, while a traditional History of Philosophy teaching is also offered, through basic categories.
On one side, the course deals with Vico's masterpiece, "New Science" (4 Credits): excerpts are read and commented during the lessons, so that the student can handle one of the best work of Italian philosophy.
On the other side, each lesson will deal, beginning from Vico, with a classical argument of the philosophy of law (5 Credits): for example, when Vico mentions natural law, the lesson will explain the basis of natural law doctrine (e.g., Tommaso d'Aquino but also Locke and modern developments of that doctrine), in order to set Vico in a classical and easy-to-learn frame. When Vico is compared to Hobbes, the lesson will deal with the primacy of civil law or criminal law (as well as constitutive rule or regulative rule). When Vico's philosophy of history is introduced, it will be compared with the most famous one, developed by Hegel, in order to show how much consensus (as a legitimating category in a legal system) has been restricted and relativized. To this extent, another comparison will be shown between Vico and a classic of the philosophy of law such as Montesquieu's "Esprit des Lois".
When Vico's "state of nature" is described, the non-contractualist element of his thought will be underlined, that distinguishes his reflections from others who are apparently similar from the point of view of the conceptual analysis. Specific relevance will be finally given to Vico's idea of "institution": it will allow a series of classical comparisons, even under a general theory of law perspective, e.g. with Burke, Marx, Schmitt, legal positivism and so on.

The articulation of the contents in credits has to be understood as indicative of the current criteria and subject to change according to the feedback from students, as well as having regard to other special needs (i.e. demands for updating).

Teaching methods

The course is made by 63 lesson hours (mostly traditional lessons). Essays and articles which are particularly relevant for the course's topics will be presented and analyzed. The whole course will develop the students' ability to interact in English and discuss with the professor. The course will be held in person, or remotely (in streaming and/or using asynchronous modes) depending on the health conditions and the consequent organizational measures required; students will be promptly informed.

Assessment methods

- For those not attended the course, the exam will be oral, with an "inverted cone" structure that proceeds from more general questions to more specific and detailed questions from both a notional and conceptual perspective ("reasoning" questions). A maximum of 6 questions will be asked during the interview. The average duration of the exam never extends beyond 30 minutes. - Those attended the course will be given a short written test consisting of a few multiple choice questions (with 3 options) at the end of each lecture in order to check their understanding of each lecture. In this way, the student can check whether his or her understanding is sufficient to be able to take the course with profit. The final exam is of the traditional oral type (again with an "inverted cone" structure that proceeds from more general questions to more specific and detailed questions). The average duration of the exam never extends beyond 20 minutes. Attendance is determined by the two requirements of class participation (equal to at least 80 percent) and written tests at the end of each class. Occasional absences, motivated by force majeure, do not affect "attending student" status. Verification of learning will focus on: critical knowledge of the topics covered; ability to use knowledge; ability to connect knowledge; mastery of technical-legal language; ability to argue; ability to explore topics in depth; ability to research, understand, interpret and use relevant sources and materials; autonomy of judgment. Examinations will be conducted orally in attendance, consistent with health regulations or special technical needs.

Learning outcomes

Knowledge and understanding:
general knowledge of the fundamental themes of legal and political philosophy starting from some topics that emerge from the text "La Scienza Nuova" by Vico; ability to understand the political, social, economic and cultural dynamics that the relationships between customs and institutions entail.

Ability to apply knowledge and understanding:
ability to analyze with awareness the problems arising from the impact of some basic principles of the history of modern legal philosophy on the current pluralistic contexts; acquisition of a method of philosophical analysis as a premise of the ability to examine complex situations in study and work contexts.
Autonomy of judgment:
ability to collect and ability to critically carry out complex data and information in the specific field of study, starting from a reflection by topics.

Communication skills:
ability to communicate to an audience of non professionals information, ideas, problems and solutions in the specific disciplinary field with property of language and good practices in thought articulation. The dialogue and the discussion in English between students and professor, stimulated in each lesson of the course, allow to develop the ability to present reflections and arguments in English in an effective and concise. way; the final interview allows to express the learned concepts with appropriate language and to sustain a discussion on some fundamental topics of the history of the philosophy of law in English.

Learning ability:
acquisition of the references, tools and learning skills necessary to consolidate language skills in English and to apply these skills, also enhanced through the analysis of key concepts of the philosophy of law, as well as to other courses of the course of study.


Il corso si tiene in lingua inglese, e quindi il testo (l’edizione originale è
naturalmente in italiano) verrà letto e commentato in tale lingua: Vico Giambattista, New Science, trans. D. Marsh, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1999.
Naturalmente lo studente è invitato a leggere anche il testo originale: Vico,
Giambattista, La Scienza Nuova (1744), in Giambiattista Vico, Opere, edizione a cura di A. Battistini, Milano, Mondadori, 1990.

I testi/manuali consigliati sono tutti presenti in Biblioteca Giuridica.