Introduction to Social & Political Issues

This is the Fall 2016 version of this course. For the Fall 2018 version of this course, click here.

You may download the full PDF here.

Course Description

This course is a philosophical introduction to pressing social and political issues of today. Public discourse is in a sorry state: partisanship is rampant; the left is becoming alarmingly authoritarian; the right is becoming increasingly transgressive. Fortunately, philosophy provides us with the tools necessary to navigate, examine, and evaluate positions in a clear and systematic manner. In this course, we will consider many of the most important problems of modern times. It will directly deal with current events and seek to understand their causes and effects. Topics of discussion will include but are not limited to: the state of nature; free speech; the legislation of force; racism; affirmative action; privilege; rights; capital punishment; the redistribution of wealth; and, the permissibility of violent rebellion.

Course Texts

  1. Wolff, Jonathan. An Introduction to Political Philosophy, 3d. ed. (Oxford, 2016)

Course Requirements

Requirement              Description                                                            Weight           Date

Reflections                  Weekly reflections on the week’s topic.             10%                Recurring

Response Paper #1   A response to material from the first unit.         25%                17 Oct 0100

Response Paper #2   A response to material from the second unit.   30%                14 Nov 0100

Final Examination      A cumulative final examination.                          35%                06 Dec

Course Schedule

Week Topic Day Readings
01 No lectures or tutorials. Mon [no class]
Weds [no class]

 Liberalism: Not What You Think It Is

02 Philosophy & Real Life Mon C: Syllabus
Weds C: James
03 The State of Nature Mon C: Hobbes (IPP)
Weds C: Locke (IPP)
04 The Social Contract Mon IPP: The social contract
Weds IPP: The principle of fairness
05 Liberty and Duty Mon IPP: Justifying the Liberty…
Weds IPP: Problems with liberalism

 The Past is Now!

06 The Sins of the Past Mon [Rescheduled to 02 Dec]
Weds IPP: Justice everywhere?
07 Oppression Mon C: West
Weds C: Truth & Reconciliation Comm.
08 Understanding Privilege Mon C: McIntosh
Weds C: Mulvey
09 Inequality Mon IPP: Justice for everyone?
Weds C: Cool

 Democracy: The Worst Form of Government*

10 Democracy Really Is Awful Mon IPP: Plato against democracy
Weds IPP: Rousseau and the general…
11 Your Guide to Mob Rule Mon IPP: Representative democracy
Weds C: Dunning
12 Is It the Best We Can Do? Mon IPP: Rawls’s theory of justice
Weds IPP: Rawls and his critics
13 Civil Disobedience Mon C: King
Fri [Review]

*except all the others

Legend. C: CourseLink; IPP: Introduction to Political Philosophy.