PP3CV-Crime and Violence

Module Provider: Philosophy
Number of credits: 10 [5 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Module version for: 2017/8

Module Convenor: Dr Mark Tebbit

Email: m.w.tebbit@reading.ac.uk

Summary module description:

This module introduces students to the philosophical issues arising from the theory and practice of criminal law in the UK, which is the outcome of many centuries of evolution of the common law, which originates in Saxon England. This module will be addressing a number of vital issues raised by considerations of justice and equity in the ways in which law-breakers are dealt with by the criminal law. Are the principles shaping and guiding criminal law consistent and sound?  Criminal cases, real and imaginary, will be used to illustrate the debates in this area of law. Philosophers from Aristotle to Dworkin will be studied.


This module will provide a grounding in a particular area in legal philosophy and will aim to develop analytic skills in line with other modules, both in Part 2 and Part 3. It will also involve the analysis of criminal cases, real and imaginary, which will connect the module to the real world of the law.

Assessable learning outcomes:

Students will gain a greater understanding of the practical application of the analytic skills that they have been developing over the course of their philosophy degree. It will also give them a wider understanding of the way law connects with the other social sciences.

Additional outcomes:

Preparation for those interested in a career in the law

Outline content:

Topics covered on the module will typically include:

1   Justifications for punishment

The ‘bloody penal codes’ of the past have today been replaced by confinement as the principal means of punishment.  What is the justification for depriving people of their liberty?  Is it mainly retaliation for anti-social behaviour? Is it merely vindictive revenge? Or should it be confined to the function of prevention and deterrence? Should it be directed at rehabilitation of the offender? Is it just deserts that should be our main concern, or the best outcomes for society?

2   Murder and Manslaughter

According to the common law doctrine of mens rea, to be convicted of a criminal defence, the defendant must be guilty in mind as well as in deed. Homicide is the killing of one person or persons by another or others. There are, however, many different kinds of killing, with a variety of motives and intentions. Murder is killing with malice aforethought.  What is it, though, that constitutes malice? What exactly does intention mean? Is motive as relevant in law as it is to our moral lives?

3   Sex, violence and criminal law

The state has a legitimate interest in matters which jeopardise the safety of society and the protection of its citizens from harm, but should the criminal law also be used to control the moral behaviour of its subjects? In particular, should the state be able to interfere in and legislate against what is deemed immoral in sexual practices? Should there be complete liberty in these areas, even when extreme consensual violence and torture is involved? Or should a limit be recognised?

4   Cannibalism on the high seas: the defence of necessity

English common law has always maintained an absolute principle outlawing the deliberate taking of innocent human life. In emergency life and death situations, however, is it ever permissible to kill out of ‘necessity’ to enable larger numbers of people to live? Some famous cases will be used to illustrate the dilemmas involved in this ‘survival ethics’, including the cannibal cases at sea and overcrowded lifeboat cases, along with some lesser known recent ones. This topic will also include killing under duress.

5   Mad or bad?  The law on insanity

Should those who kill because of a mental abnormality or illness be dealt with as murderers or as unfortunate victims of their condition, more in need of medical treatment than condemnation and punishment? What if mentally ill defendants form this intention in a delusional state, so that they do not know what they are doing is wrong, or even if they do, they are unable to control their actions? English law on these questions has evolved in modern times, and we will be considering the consistency and justifiability of this law.

Global context:

Some of the course will draw comparisons with other legal systems, including those of the British Commonwealth and the USA.

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

The module is taught by lectures and seminars. Students are expected to attend 10 hours of lectures and 5 hours of seminars during the term in which the module’s lecture and seminar classes take place. All students are required to write a single essay from a list of questions supplied by the module convenor. The essay assignment will be due in week 5 of the Summer term. In addition, students will be required to write a short précis of the topic for discussion in each seminar class. Students are encouraged to be active in all classes, asking questions and trying to answer the questions posed by others. A reading list and sample questions will be given out at the start of the course.

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 10
Seminars 5
Guided independent study 85
Total hours by term 100.00
Total hours for module 100.00

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 100

Other information on summative assessment:

Formative assessment methods:

Students will write a short précis of the topic for discussion for every seminar class. Some classes may involve quizzes.

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late, in accordance with the University policy.

  • where the piece of work is submitted up to one calendar week after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for the piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Length of examination:

    Requirements for a pass:

    A mark of 40% overall

    Reassessment arrangements:

    Written assignment, to be completed in August

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

    Last updated: 31 March 2017

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