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Pre-law and the Philosophy Major

Philosophy majors develop many skills needed in law school and in legal careers: analysis of arguments, organizing reasoning, identifying fallacies, uncovering premises and presuppositions, and structuring complex thought. Argument and reasoning are fundamental in both philosophy and legal thought.

Certificate in Law, Ethics and Society

If you are interested in pre-law, this certificate will train you for the legal profession by developing your analytical, writing and other foundational knowledge to succeed in law school.

Although formal deductive logic has an important role in legal contexts, legal practice and scholarship also demand continual attention to informal logic and to probability judgments. The study of philosophy hones one's deductive and inductive skills. In addition to developing these skills for legal thought, philosophy majors inquire into many topics of interest to pre-law students. Ethics, social and political philosophy, and philosophy of law are the philosophical areas most obviously related to law. Legal concepts and normative arguments in law intersect with moral and political concepts such as justice, social obligation, fairness, wrongfulness, and legitimate authority. Contract law intersects with the ethics of promising, criminal law intersects with philosophical concerns about responsibility and punishment, tort and property law intersect with philosophical reflection upon distributive and corrective justice. The relevance of philosophical reflection to American constitutional law is deep and pervasive — indeed, it is often argued that fundamental changes in conceptions of constitutional rights are justified by reasoning more akin to philosophical argument than to ordinary legal reasoning. And so contemporary legal scholarship reverberates with philosophical reflection, with many law schools including faculty with joint appointments in law and philosophy, and law journals frequently including articles by philosophers as well as philosophically informed lawyers.

Less obviously related areas of philosophy also engage the attention of reflective legal scholars and practitioners. The philosophy of mind and metaphysics impact legal thought concerning intention, voluntariness, and free will as well as liability and personal identity. The theory of knowledge, with its sustained scrutiny of the difficulty of fully grasping the truth, spurs inquiry into knowledge claims both about the law and about empirical matters of relevance to law and lawmaking (such as the deterrent effect of various kinds of punishment). Philosophical reflection concerning the human existential condition challenges legal thought to see the lived reality of the people sometimes objectified within legal scholarship and practice.

Pre-law philosophy students may choose any of the three tracks offered to philosophy majors. The Professional Track is especially recommended for those considering a combination of graduate work in philosophy and law, whether by directly entering one of the joint philosophy/law school programs offered at several universities, or by beginning in either philosophy alone or law school alone while contemplating an eventual combination. And within the Specialized Track there is an available pre-law focus that may be especially attractive to some, for it concentrates on philosophical reflection directly related to law. This specialized focus can also facilitate a dual major with another pre-law field.

University Park

Majors interested in pursuing law are encouraged to discuss this with the department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies and also visiting the Pre-Law Advising and Training Office (PLATO). Students need to get timely information about Law School Admission Council, taking the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and about registering with and using the Credential Assembly Service (CAS), etc. Advisors will also stress the importance of recommendations from faculty and the procedures for obtaining them. In addition to facilitating application to law school, the philosophy faculty are committed to helping pre-law philosophy majors during the process of preparing academically for the rigors of law school itself, with its heavy demands for reasoning, clarity, and systematic thought.