Legal Reasoning and Argumentation (2019/2020)

Course code
Name of lecturer
Stefano Bertea
Stefano Bertea
Number of ECTS credits allocated
Academic sector
Language of instruction
2° periodo di lezioni - febbraio/aprile 2020 dal Feb 10, 2020 al Apr 6, 2020.

Lesson timetable

Go to lesson schedule

Learning outcomes

The aim of this module consists in introducing key elements of the current debate on legal argumentation. Different forms of argumentation are involved in applying legal standards (rules, principles, policies, etc.) to specific cases. Legal argumentation, thus, cannot be qualified as a straightforward process; in fact, it raises a number of practical issues and theoretical concerns.

The main questions that will be considered in the module are as follows: What do we mean by “legal argumentation”? Is legal argumentation partly or entirely a deductive process? Can legal argumentation be regarded as a descriptive activity of the standards issued by law-makers or rather the processes of arguing in, and reasoning about, law impacts on the contents of a legal system? Does legal argumentation differ in any substantial way from law-making? Is legal argumentation a rule-constrained activity? Can law, politics and morality be kept separate in legal argumentation?

Accordingly, by completing this module, students will have gained in-depth understanding of the nature, features and essential dimensions of legal argumentation.


The module consists in 36 one-hour sessions spread over 9 weeks.

The main topics that will be covered during the sessions are the following ones:
1. Logic and Argumentation in Law – A General Introduction (Week 1)

Part I: The Practice of Arguing in Law
2. Arguing with Rules (Week 2)
3. Arguing with Precedents (Week 3)
4. Law, Argumentation, and Authority (Week 4)

Part II: Legal Argumentation and Theory
5. Neil MacCormick’s Theory of Legal Argumentation and its Implications: Legal Positivism (Weeks 5 and 6)
6. Ronald Dworkin’s Theory of Legal Argumentation and its Implications: Non-Positivism (Week 7, 8, and 9)

Reference books
Author Title Publisher Year ISBN Note
E. Feteris Fundamentals of Legal Argumentation: A Survey of Theories on the Justification of Judicial Decision Springer 2017
F. Schauer, Thinking like a Lawyer Harvard University Press 2009

Assessment methods and criteria

This module will be assessed on the basis of a single 2,000 word-long essay, to be completed by the end of the Teaching Term and handed in to the lecturer by Monday 20th April 2020 at 11.00 am (please email the electronic copy of your essay to:

During the lectures I will provide the list of the essay titles. However, should a student come up with his/her own title and it falls within the parameters of the module, the lecturer will be happy to expand the list accordingly. Students interested in taking this option should consult the lecturer beforehand and agree an essay title with him if they wish to submit their own title.