Fall 2021

Sem: Equality/Inequality

Listed in: Philosophy, as PHIL-470


Rafeeq Hasan (Section 01)


Open a newspaper today and one will encounter statistics like the following: in the United States the top 1% of households have 15 times more wealth than the bottom 50%. Over the past three decades, the top 10% of U.S. households have seen their wealth rise by almost ten percentage points, while the total wealth controlled by the bottom 50% has been cut nearly in half. And in the time of pandemic, the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider.

Many people think there is something unjust about a society in which some have so much more than others. But is inequality unjust, and, if so, why? Reducing inequality will involve taking away some of what hard-working, innovative people have earned through legitimate avenues. What could justify governments in doing this?

We will consider these questions by studying two of the most-discussed works of modern political philosophy: John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice (1971) and Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974). Rawls argues that a society genuinely committed to equality must redistribute wealth so as to promote the well-being of the worst off. Nozick argues that redistributive taxation unjustly interferes with our freedom. Reading Rawls and Nozick together allows us to investigate whether freedom and equality are, in fact, irreconcilable values.

Along the way, we will also examine arguments for a universal basic income, the relation between personal responsibility and economic inequality, and inequalities of power in the workplace. To this end, we will read contemporary philosophers such as Elizabeth Anderson, G.A. Cohen, and Thomas Nagel.

Requisite: Two prior courses in PHIL. Limited to 15 students. . Professor Hasan.

If Overenrolled: Preference to majors, then by class and to those who attend first class and have one course in Philosophy


Attention to Writing


2021-22: Offered in Fall 2021
Other years: Offered in Fall 2016, Fall 2021