93268 - Fundamentals of Law and Social Theory

Course Unit Page

  • Teacher Antonino Rotolo

  • Credits 8

  • SSD IUS/01

  • Teaching Mode Traditional lectures

  • Language Italian

  • Campus of Bologna

  • Degree Programme First cycle degree programme (L) in Economics, Markets and Institutions (cod. 8038)

  • Teaching resources on Virtuale


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Decent work and economic growth Reduced inequalities Peace, justice and strong institutions

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course the student will have a comprehensive knowledge of the philosophical and ethical foundations of contemporary legal systems and of the related impact in the economic and social field. The student will then be introduced to the critical study of legal theory (types of norms, interpretation, integration and systematization of law), as well as to the most relevant issues of contemporary debate, with particular reference to the conventional nature of law and its application in this context of formal methods such as game theory.

Course contents

The course contents are divided into three parts.

The first part concerns the study of the foundations of the theory of law and will be addressed by analyzing the fundamental contribution of H.L.A. Hart. In particular, the following topics will be considered:

• Rules, commands and sovereignty

• Primary and secondary rules

• The foundation of legal systems.

The second part of the course aims at investigate the concept of social convention and how such a concept can provide conceptual foundations for the idea of and legal obligation. To do this, some basic notions of game theory will be used. The following topics will be considered:

• Obligatoriness of the law, norms and conventions: self-interest and cooperation

• Obligation of law, norms and conventions: social coordination.

The third part of the course deals with a specific aspect, the promotional function of law and the concepts of merit and meritocracy. The following topics will be studied:

• The philosophical concepts of merit

• Merit and justice

• Merit and society.


H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law, 2nd ed., with a postscript edited by Penelope A. Bulloch and Joseph Raz, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1994 (or subsequent editions), chaps. I, II, III, IV, V, VI;

A. Rotolo, Perché il diritto è una convenzione? Il gioco delle norme e il suo linguaggio, 2a edizione, Giappichelli, Torino, 2017, chaps. 1 and 2;

R. Brigati, Il giusto a chi va. Filosofia del merito e della meritocrazia, Il Mulino, Bologna, 2015 (excerpts to be indicated in class).

Teaching methods

The lectures will either cover course contents or will consist in the reading and commenting of a text related to those contents. Further information about the course will be provided in class and published online. Seminars and side lectures could be indicated during the course.

Assessment methods


The learning assessment takes place through the final exam which consists of a two-hour written test consisting of 6 open-ended questions on the entire course contents.

Each question allows to obtain from 0 to a maximum of 5 points which contribute to determining the final grade. The test is passed with a minimum score of 18 points.

The test aims to verify the acquired knowledge on the basic and advanced concepts covered in the course. The acquired knowledge, the critical and methodological skills of the student, the ability to connect parts of the program in an interdisciplinary way will be evaluated. Particular attention will be paid to the integrated vision of the discipline.

The test takes place without the possibility of consulting books, notes, digital tools, under penalty of annulment of the test itself.


Students who have acquired in the written exam at least the score 18/30 can take, if they wish, an oral examination to improve the outcome of the written test. The oral test is however optional and consists mainly in the discussion and in-depth study of the topics introduced in the written test and can also lead to a worsening of the mark of the written test. The duration of the oral exam is on average 15 minutes.


For students who have to take the 10 CFU exam, the test procedure is the same as the 8 CFU one. It will be enough to prepare on the same readings, supplemented by the study of:

A. Rotolo, Perché il diritto è una convenzione? Il gioco delle norme e il suo linguaggio, 2a edizione, Giappichelli, Torino, 2017 (chap. 3).

Teaching tools

These include handouts summarizing the main course topics, the reading and commenting of texts in class, and tests by which to assess student performance.

All the information relative to the course, along with any notice the instructors may give, as well as any supplemental course material, will be available online.

Office hours

See the website of Antonino Rotolo