Fall 2016

Seminar: Equality/Inequality

Listed in: Philosophy, as PHIL-470


Rafeeq Hasan (Section 01)


Open most newspapers today and you will find statistics like the following: in the contemporary United States the share of wealth owned by the top 0.1% is almost the same as the bottom 90%. The six heirs to the Walmart fortune have more assets than the bottom 42% of all Americans combined. Moreover, the popular press has seen a recent spate of books on economic inequality written by economists, politicians, and public intellectuals. Many of these titles—e.g., The Price of Inequality, Inequality: What Can Be Done?, and The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them—suggest that there is something morally problematic about a society in which certain individuals own so much more than others. But is this problematic, and, if so, why? And if too much inequality is morally bad, what vision of equality ought we to strive for?

After beginning with Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, a historical text that helps create the topic of wealth disparity as a meaningful subject of moral evaluation, we will investigate John Rawls’s “Difference Principle,” which is the demanding criterion that a just society redistribute wealth so as to promote the well-being of the worst off; Luck Egalitarianism, which is the view that unjust inequalities are those that stem from undeserved bad luck but not from our own bad choices; and feminist interrogations of inequality in the family. We will also consider critics who maintain that it is not inequality per se that ought to worry us, but rather absolute levels of deprivation. For these critics, it does not matter that some have more than others, just as long as everyone has enough

Requisite: Two courses in Philosophy or consent of the instructor.  Limited to 15 students. Fall semester. Professor Hasan.

If Overenrolled: Priority will be given to majors, seniors, then juniors, etc.


Attention to Writing


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2021