Contemporary Political Philosophy

Department of Philosophy, School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion

College of Arts and Law


Code 23510

Level of study Second Year

Credit value 20

Semester 1

Pre-requisite modules 40 credits of philosophy modules

Other pre-requisites None

Module description

This module will explore different aspects of one of the most important debates in the contemporary political philosophy. It begins from John Rawls’s seminal account of justice which understands justice as fairness. This view of justice emphasises: (i) the protection of basic civil liberties, (ii) the creation of fair equality of opportunity, and (iii) the redistribution of wealth and income to maximally benefit the economically worst off. Rawls argues for this conception of justice both by relying on our prior intuitions about justice, and by using a sophisticated argument based on a hypothetical social contract.
The module will then critically examine the following responses to Rawls:
G.A. Cohen’s left-wing criticism according to which Rawls’s theory leaves too much room for objectionable inequality-creating incentives.
Robert Nozick’s right-wing criticism according to which Rawls’s theory fails to respect our ownership rights to ourselves and to the products of our labour. At this point, we will also consider both Nozick’s own version of libertarianism (the so-called historical entitlement theory of justice), and Philippe Van Parijs’s left-libertarian view.
Ronald Dworkin’s alternative version of liberal egalitarianism which concentrates on both the equality of resources and personal responsibility.
Elizabeth Anderson’s general objections to luck egalitarianism.
Susan Moller Okin’s feminist view according to which the scope of Rawls’s theory should be extended to the personal sphere of families [,and]
Will Kymlicka’s proposal according to which liberal egalitarian theories should be able to accord certain special protections to certain minority cultures.

Teaching and learning methods

Weekly lectures and weekly seminars