Theories of Justice
Theories of Justice
This course is an undergraduate-level introduction to the subject of justice in contemporary Anglo-American political theory. Its aim is to provide students with an understanding of the current state of the theoretical literature on justice as well as to enable them to engage in their own critical thinking about the topic.
For the most part, discussion proceeds in chronological order. We begin with the study of utilitarianism—the dominant approach to political philosophy in the modern era. From there we proceed to a thorough treatment of the political philosopher who has, arguably, dominated the contemporary scene: John Rawls. In particular, we shall examine the arguments put forward in A Theory of Justice for what he calls “justice as fairness”—a conception of justice that he believed to be superior to that articulated by utilitarians. But in developing his own distinctively contractarian conception of justice, Rawls was, however, subject to much criticism. For that reason, we turn next to a variety of alternative conceptions of justice put forward in direct contrast to his position: namely, libertarianism, luck egalitarianism and the capabilities approach, Marxism, communitarianism, and, finally, feminism.
In the latter half of the course we focus on a number of related problems that have been at issue in contemporary discussions of justice. More specifically, we explore the question of whether principles of justice apply solely within the boundaries of particular states or whether their application is global in scope instead. Next, we consider whether principles of justice fix our relations with our contemporaries alone or whether they further constrain our actions towards future generations as well. In a related manner, we also ask how, if at all, justice constrains our relations with non-human animals. We end, finally, by considering whether justice and democracy conflict, and, if so, which ought to receive priority in practical political action.
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