Western Legal Tradition 

Professor Golash
Spring 2001


Class Hours: MTh 8:30-9:45
Office: Ward 252
Office Hours: MTh 11-12, W 5-6, TuF 12:45-2 
Phone: 885-2955 (Call anytime; you can leave a message if I am not in) 
Teaching Assistant: Donnel  Brown


  • Course Packet - available at Campus Store
  • Aeschylus, Oresteia 
  • Sophocles, The Theban Plays
  • Bolt, A Man for All Seasons
  • Plato, Trial and Death of Socrates G.M.A. Grube, trans. (Hackett Pub.)
  • Plato, Gorgias, Donald Zeyl, trans. (Hackett Pub.)
  • Anouilh, Becket
  • J. Kelly, A Short History of Western Legal Theory

 Course Description

This course will trace the historical roots of the Anglo-American legal system and its philosophical foundations. Areas covered include the relation between church and state, criminal law and punishment, property law, and the foundations of government authority. 
This course is designed not only to teach you the ideas of others but also to help you develop and present your own ideas. Class discussions will help you to articulate your thoughts on issues presented in the reading and to anticipate objections. The writing assignments are designed to help you learn to formulate your arguments clearly and concisely. Making the effort to state your meaning precisely in writing will help you in thinking through your arguments. 

 General Education Credit

The Western Legal Tradition is one of ten foundation courses in Curricular Area II, Traditions that Shape the Western World, in the General Education Program. This course is the first of a two-course sequence. Any of the following courses will complete the sequence [click on the course name to see the course description]: 


Attendance and participation. 
  1. All students are expected to attend class consistently and to arrive on time. You are allowed two unexcused absences during the semester.   Attendance will be taken at 8:30 a.m. 
  2. You are expected to complete the reading assignment before class and to bring the book to class with you. 
  3. There will be a class listserv (group mailing list) to which you are required to make ten contributions during the semester. 
Papers and tests. 
  1. There will be two paper assignments. You may revise either or both of these papers in response to comments; your paper will then be re-graded and the new grade will replace the original grade. 
  2. There will be a midterm and a final exam. Study sheets will be provided for each test. Papers must be submitted at the beginning of class on the dates specified on the syllabus. Papers (including revised papers) submitted outside class, or at a later date, will not be graded.  It is your responsibility to make sure that your computer does not eat your paper. 
  3. Tests must be taken on the scheduled dates. No make-up tests will be given.  In case of documented illness, the student will be entirely excused from the test and the final grade will be computed from the remaining assignments. 


  • Participation - 20%
    Participation grade will be based on class contributions, ability to answer questions based on the reading, and contributions to the listserv. If you don't like to speak up in class, you can raise your participation grade by making extra contributions to the listserv.
  • Papers - Each 20%
  • Midterm - 20%
  • Final exam - 20%
  • Attendance
  • Attendance is required. You are permitted two unexcused absences; your course grade will be lowered by 1/3 grade for each three additional absences. Thus, if your course grade is a B, and you have five unexcused absences, your grade will be lowered to a B-. Exceptions will be made for documented illness. 
Grading standards are in part subjective and excellence in one area may compensate for deficiencies in another. The following will give you a general guide as to the typical performance associated with each letter grade. 
  • A: all course requirements met, work shows full understanding of course material and an original perspective on the subject
  • B: all course requirements met, work shows full understanding of course material (or satisfactory understanding of course material and an original perspective on the subject)
  • C: all course requirements met, work shows satisfactory understanding of course material
  • D: work fails to meet minimum course requirements, either in full and timely completion of requirements or in satisfactory understanding of course material
  • F: work falls far below minimum course requirements either in full and timely completion of requirements or in satisfactory understanding of course material.

Changes in the schedule are probable.  Be sure to check with your TA if you miss class announcements. “Reference materials” are not required reading, but you will need them in class. 

Thursday January 18 
Levinson, On Interpretation: The Adultery Clause  of the Ten Commandments [handout] 

Monday January 22 - Thursday January 25
The Book of the Dead (handout) 
The Loyalist Instruction from the Sehetepibre Stela (handout) 
Egyptian Myths

 Monday, January 29
Prologue to Code of Hammurabi (handout) 
Reference materials: 
Code of Hammurabi 

Thursday, February 1
Ancient Hebrews 
Excerpts from Exodus


 Monday February 5 
Iliad (CP) 
Plato, Apology  (in Trial and Death of Socrates) 
Recommended: Western Legal Theory,  ch. 1 (1-19) 

 Thursday February 8 
Aeschylus, Eumenides (in the Oresteia) 

Monday February12 
Crito, Phaedo (in Trial and Death of Socrates) 
Recommended: Western Legal Theory, pp. 20-38 
Thursday February 15 
Plato, Gorgias pp. 27-50 

Roman Republic 
Monday February 19 
Western Legal Theory, 39-63 
Cicero, De Legibus (CP) 
Reference materials:   Laws of the Twelve Tables (CP) 
First Paper Due February 19 

Roman Empire - Early Christianity 
Monday February 26 
Recommended:  Western Legal Theory, 63-78 
Thursday March 1 
Recommended:  Western Legal Theory, ch. 3 - Early Middle Ages pp. 

Monday March 5 
Institutes of Justinian, Preamble (CP) 
Laws of Aethelstan (CP) 
Reference materials 
Institutes of Justinian, Book I, I&II (CP) 
Institutes of Justinian - Book II - Of Things (CP) 

Thursday March 8 
Midterm (firm date) 


High Middle Ages 
 Monday  March 19 
Murder of Thomas Becket (CP) 
Reference materials: 
Constitutions of Clarendon (CP) 
Recommended:  Western Legal Theory, ch. 4 pp. 120-131 

Thursday March 22 

Magna Carta (CP) 
Reference materials: 
Assize of Clarendon (CP) 
Recommended:  Western Legal Theory, ch. 4 pp. 131-134 

Monday March 26 
Preface to Estates in Land and Future Interests (CP) 

Thursday March 29 
Aquinas, Summa Theologica (CP) 
Recommended:  Western Legal Theory ch. 4 pp. 134-158 

Monday-Thursday April 2-5 
Bolt, A Man for All Seasons 
Reference materials: 
Act of Supremacy of Henry VIII (CP) 
Treasons Act of Henry VIII (CP) 

Renaissance and Reformation 
Monday – Thursday April  9-12 
Bushell's Case (CP) 
Recommended:  Western Legal Theory 232-238 (Rule of Law) 



Monday-Thursday April 16-19 
Western Legal Theory 208-215 
Hobbes, Leviathan (CP) 
English Bill of Rights (CP) 

Monday-Thursday April 23-26 
Locke, ch. 2, 8, 9 (CP) 
Western Legal Theory 215-229 

Monday April 30 

May 7 


Cuneiform tablet courtesy of the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University Photos of Isis, Romulus and Remus, the Roman aqueduct, the Colosseum, and Dionysos courtesy of Prof. Michael Greenhalgh, Australian National University. These and others can be found on his ArtServe site.Thumbnail of Tiberius by Justin D. Paola .Comments or suggestions? E-mail me at dgolash@american.edu.
Page last updated January 25, 2001
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