Fall 2015

Political Philosophy: Justice, Freedom, and the State

Listed in: Philosophy, as PHIL-226


Rafeeq Hasan (Section 01)


States are made by collections of individuals. And yet states have powers that no individuals have. They collect taxes, put us in jail, draft us into the army, tell us what we can and cannot own, etc. In general, they compel us to do things in the name of a "common good," even when that good conflicts with what we would individually prefer to do. In this course, an introduction to key concepts of Western political philosophy, we seek to understand what, if anything, could justify states having this power over us. To this end, we examine three philosophical issues raised by the state. (1) The problem of political obligation. Is there any reason why we ought to obey the law? What are the grounds for legitimate civil disobedience? (2) The question of distributive justice. What reasons are there to tax the rich in order to give to the poor? What is the role of the state in securing economic equality? And what else beyond income ought the state to redistribute? (3) The paradox of political freedom. If freedom is naturally thought of as the ability to do whatever one wants, how could being a citizen of the state (with all the constraints that involves) possibly make us free?

Readings will be both classical and contemporary, including Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Berlin, Nozick, Rawls, and G.A. Cohen. As part of our investigation of these three key topics we will also consider one grim aspect of current political reality: systematic racism and racial exclusion. We will ask how the fact of racism ought to shape our orientation to the state and to the project of political philosophy more generally. Readings here include: Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, as well as Tommy Shelby, Charles Mills, and Elizabeth Anderson.

Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professor Hasan.

PHIL 226 - L/D

Section 01
Tu 10:00 AM - 11:20 AM CHAP 203
Th 10:00 AM - 11:20 AM CHAP 203


2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015, Spring 2018, Fall 2019