Fall 2018

A survey of important issues in contemporary political philosophy, with a particular focus on the questions of social justice and political legitimacy. How should a just society be organized? Does justice require citizens and governments to follow some procedures, and/or does it involve reaching particular outcomes – for example particular patterns of wealth distribution? How should we reach important social and political decisions for them to be (and not just appear) legitimate? Is the majority always right? Should we elect representatives or practice a more direct form of democracy? What are the rights of minorities? Is there a right to civil disobedience when you disagree with a legitimately reached political decision? How should political communities interact with cultural minorities and particular identity groups?

Format alternates between lecture (L) (with questions and answers!), “workshops” (W) where we collectively try to construct some argument in the reading, and critical discussion (D) of the issues.

See the bottom of the page for assignments and notice you have to do three out of homeworks nos. 1-8. You can download the class syllabus here. The schedule on this page is regularly updated through the semester.


Tuesday, Sept 5th Introduction
Part I – What do we care about and why?
Thursday, Sept 6th Well-being and utilitarianism [recap]
Tuesday, Sept 11th Self-ownership and rights [recap]
Thursday, Sept 13th Capabilities (L, D) [recap]
Tuesday, Sept 18th Autonomy and real freedom (W) [recap]
  • Van Parijs, Philippe, Real Freedom for All, ch. 1
short paper no. 1 due
Thursday, Sept 20th (continued)
Part II – Justice: aims, means, and policies
Tuesday, Sept 25th Social contracts and the original position (L) [recap]
  • Rawls, John, A Theory of Justice, §§1-4 and §9
short paper no. 2 due
Thursday, Sept 27th Rawls’ two principles of justice (W, D) [recap]
  • Rawls, John, A Theory of Justice, §§11-17
Tuesday, Oct 2nd Justice as fairness: from the original position to the two principles of justice (L) [recap] short paper no. 3 due
Thursday, Oct 4th (continued) (D)
Tuesday, Oct 9th Real freedom and basic income [recap]
  • Van Parijs, Philippe, Real Freedom for All, ch. 2
Thursday, Oct 11th Libertarian criticism (W, D) [recap] short paper no. 4 due
Tuesday, Oct 16th The minimal state (L) [recap]
  • Nozick, Robert, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, ch. 5, pp. 88-119
Thursday, Oct 18th Taxing rents (L, D) [recap]
  • Van Parijs, Philippe, Real Freedom for All, ch. 4
short paper no. 5 due
Tuesday, Oct 23rd Beyond the market? (L, D) [recap]
  • No reading (we’ll discuss the work of Bernard Friot)
Thursday, Oct 25th Beyond luck (W, D) [recap] short paper no. 6 due
Tuesday, Oct 30th (continued) (D)
Part III – What about democracy? [intro]
Tuesday, Nov 6th Two classical takes: Rousseau and Locke (W, D) [recap]
Thursday, Nov 8th Issues with democracy (D) [recap]
short paper no. 7 due
Friday, Nov 9th Two contemporary takes: Mouffe and Habermas (W, D) [recap]
Tuesday, Nov 13th New ideas? (W, D) [recap]
Part IV – International issues
Thursday, Nov 15th Global justice (W, D) [recap] short paper no. 8 due
Tuesday, Nov 20th Global justice (W, D)
Thursday, Nov 22nd International relations (W, D) paper draft due (upload here)
Tuesday, Nov 27th Migrations (W, D)
Thursday, Nov 29th Immigrants (W, D) peer comments due (upload here)
Tuesday, Dec 4th (continued) (D)
Thursday, Dec 6th Review session final paper due on Friday Dec 7th