Fall 2008

Textuality in Legal & Political Theory: The Social Contract Tradition

Listed in: Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought, as LJST-33


Ethan H. MacAdam (Section 01)


This course investigates seminal writings belonging to the "social contract" tradition, firstly at the tradition's modern roots in the English seventeenth century, and secondly in the present era, where interest in this mode of thought has had a revival of sorts over the past 35 years. Much ink has been spilled during those years over the apparent practical problems of contract theories as aids or means to just government, and we will attempt, over the course of the semester, to approach these familiar problems in new ways. The particular approach to these writings which the course seeks to interrogate and develop will be chiefly concerned with their textuality, i.e., the way in which these writings communicate what they do: such an approach will give great attention to vocabulary, practices of quotation, the situation of the author(s) and his/her/their audience, considerations of genre and the division of knowledge, and "performative" language. Our goal will be to evaluate this mode of reading as a tool for making progress in contract theory, and to use this tool to generate fresh thinking on some very old legal and political problems. Not open to first year students. Enrolled students need to be careful and committed readers who have mastered the basics of critical thinking and writing in previous parts of the College curriculum. Fall semester. Visiting Professor MacAdam.