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Georgetown University


Detailed Course Information


Fall 2017
Jan 21, 2018
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PHIL 535 - Distributive Justice
This is a graduate seminar in which graduate responsibility for the weekly assigned readings is of central importance. For each assigned article (usually 2-3 per class) one graduate student will take primary responsibility for starting the discussion and steering it through the rougher patches. Seminar performance will count as 1/3 of the final grade. The remainder of the grade will be based on a seminar paper, due at the customary time allowed for completion of the work for the term, which in the Spring Semester, may be as late as July 1, 2013, if an “Incomplete” is approved for that course.

The tentative list of readings and topics is as follows:

1. Rawls, selections (roughly 40 pages) from A Theory of Justice on the core elements of the theory (basic structure, mutual advantage, free and equal citizens, society as a special form of social cooperation over time), the methodologies (original position, veil of ignorance, reflective equilibrium) by which his principles are generated, and controversies arising out of these elements. We also read a forthcoming overview essay, “Social Justice” by Madison Powers, as well as selections from Justice as Fairness by Rawls.

2. More Rawls selections (roughly 60 pages) from A Theory of Justice, focusing on his principles, the various interpretations of each, the ways they are interrelated as part of a package deal, and the variety of ancillary arguments (self-respect, democratic equality, that provide further and perhaps deeper justificatory support for his principles. We read relevant selections from Justice as Fairness as well.

3. Critique of the very idea of distributive justice and Rawls’s theory in particular. We read selections from Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia.

4. Luck egalitarianism: Arneson’s “Equality and equality of Opportunity for Welfare” and one of Gerry Cohen’s essays on the issue.

5. The Capability Alternative as presented by Sen and Nussbaum. We read selections from the works of each.

6. Is equality or priority the distributive aim (in some contexts)? We read Parfit’s “equality or priority? As well as a selection from Powers and Faden’s Social Justice and another essay on the leveling down objection (probably by Tempkin)

7. What’s so bad about inequality? We read Scanlon’s Lindley Lecture and Elizabeth Anderson’s “What’s the point of equality?  Relational egalitarianism vs luck egalitarianism is a big part of this debate, but so too are bigger issues of when inequality is unjust for reasons other than the idea that equality itself is of intrinsic moral importance.

8. The debate over the metric of justice: an essay by Pogge and another Anderson essay, plus a short article from the Journal of Human Development and Capabilities by Powers and Faden on what’s wrong with the capability approach as exemplified in health, even if you are a teleological theorist.

9. Debates about the “Basic Structure” and multiple ways of understanding what it is and what social arrangements are subject to regulation by Rawls’s Principles, most likely differing points of view from Gerry Cohen versus either Josh Cohen or Thomas Pogge.

10. Sufficiency theories as an alternative to both equality and priority views. We read Roger Crisp’s essay that defend something very like Frankfurt’s more sketchy sufficiency theory, Paula Casal’s critique of Crisp and Frankfurt, and a ms by Powers and Faden that combines a defense of a sufficiency of well-being approach with relational egalitarianism.

11. Systematic Disadvantage Theories. We read selections from Disadvantage by Wolfe and de-Shalit, selections from Social Justice by Powers and Faden, and Iris Marion Young’s essay “Responsibility for Structural Justice.”

12 Rawls, selections from Law of Peoples selections, a few pages from a Pogge essay critiquing his use of the 2nd Veil of Ignorance to derive principles of a “reasonably just” law of peoples, and Allen Buchanan’s argument for the existence of a “global basic structure.

13. The “strong statism” debate in which various philosophers argue against any global duties of distributive justice. We read articles by Michael Blake, Thomas Nagel and perhaps selections from a critique by Cohen and Sabel and a few pages from David Miller’s Global Justice, arguing against a global difference principle.

14. Do we harm the global poor? We read a couple of papers by Pogge and some of his critics.

We may not have time to do all of the above and we might want to do bits of other things. Other topics include something on morality and markets, such as Free Market Fairness by Tomasi and Debra Satz on noxious markets. Or maybe something on the self-ownership debate with selections from Gopal Shreenivasan, Barbara Fried, and Gerry Cohen, or whatever else appeals, if time permits.  

3.000 Credit hours
3.000 Lecture hours
0.000 Lab hours

Levels: MN or MC Graduate, Undergraduate
Schedule Types: Lecture, Seminar

Philosophy Department

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