Sample Syllabi

Political & Legal Philosophy (PDF)

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Course Content: In this class, we’ll explore some of the central questions in political philosophy, including: 

-When are we obligated to obey the state, and why? Are there any circumstances under which disobeying the state is morally justified? If and when it is, what means are people justified in using when they disobey? Must they be non-violent, for example? 

 -How should the resources and opportunities available in a political society be distributed? What kinds of distributions are just, or fair? 

 -How do our political arrangements affect people’s personal characters, and vice versa? What’s the relationship between the law and more “informal” social norms, such as those governing family life? 

 -Do political officials have different moral responsibilities than ordinary citizens? To what extent are ordinary citizens responsible for the actions of their political leaders?

 In this class, you will develop your ability to carefully read and critically analyze philosophical texts, and to make cogent philosophical arguments of your own (both orally and in writing). Ultimately, this class aims to empower you to use the ideas and texts central to political philosophy to address moral questions that you face in your everyday life as a citizen. 


Global Justice (PDF)

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Course Overview and Goals: Within the domestic context, we often ask ourselves questions about justice: Is a proposed law fair? What would be a just tax policy? As a citizen, how should I engage in the politics of my country? What values—freedom? equality? democracy?—should our political and social institutions promote or embody?

In this class, we will address these kinds of questions as they arise in the global context: What would make the world order just? What principles and values should guide states’ foreign policy? How should individuals and other non-state actors engage in global politics? What do we owe to people in other countries? We will read political theory scholarship on global justice from a variety of different perspectives, and use the ideas therein to analyze real-world political issues such as poverty, humanitarian intervention, the refugee crisis, and globalization. 

By the end of the term, you will be able to make coherent, informed arguments of your own (both orally and in writing) related to (some of) the major ethical debates surrounding global politics today.


Social Contract Theory & Its Critics (PDF)

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Course Overview and Goals: The idea that people must consent to be ruled by a state in order for its authority to be legitimate has had immense influence both in the history of political thought and in the history of political experience. In one form or another, the “consent of the governed” has re-emerged again and again—both in political theory and in public life—as a justification for political power, or an articulation of the standards that power must meet in order to be justified.

In this course, we will study both canonical and contemporary texts that constitute, evaluate, and critique social contract theory—which takes as its basis the idea that political power must be justified with reference to the actual or hypothetical consent of those subject to it.

We will ask questions like the following: How do different thinkers conceive of the “social contract” and what do they think qualifies as “consent”? What functions do these conceptions play in their arguments for political obligation and/or distributive justice? To what extent can hypothetical or imagined histories of political institutions based on consent give us guidance for how to design actual institutions in the real world? What of the fact that the political orders canonical social contract thinkers sought to justify were often exclusionary—for example, not including women or people of color? How does (or should) this reality affect our evaluation of social contract theory and its central conceptual tools?

By the end of the term, you will be able to synthesize information and evaluate arguments from a variety of canonical and contemporary sources. You will gain experience designing your own paper topics and presenting your work in an academic setting. Finally, you’ll be able to make coherent, informed arguments of your own (both orally and in writing) about the texts we’ve read and their implications for our thinking about real political institutions.

For your reference, some general guidance on the form of philosophical writing is available here: https://sites.google.com/a/wellesley.edu/pinkguidetophilosophy/ and here: http://www.jimpryor.net/teaching/guidelines/writing.html