Spring 2018

Political Philosophy: Justice, Freedom, and the State

Listed in: Philosophy, as PHIL-226


Rafeeq Hasan (Section 01)


States are made up of 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, states 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 in having this power over us. To this end, we examine two 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?

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 two topics we will also 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 Tommie Shelby, Charles Mills, and Elizabeth Anderson.

Limited to 25 students. Spring semester. Professor Hasan.

If Overenrolled: Priority to majors, then on the basis of seniority and enrollment at Amherst.


Attention to Writing


2017-18: Offered in Spring 2018
Other years: Offered in Fall 2015