Introductory Philosophy: Social & Political Issues

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

You may download the complete PDF here.

Course Description

This course is a philosophical introduction to current social and political issues. 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; the redistribution of wealth; and, the permissibility of violent rebellion.

Course Texts

  1. Warburton, Nigel. Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction. (Oxford, 2009)
  2. Wolff, Jonathan. An Introduction to Political Philosophy, 3d. ed. (Oxford, 2016)
  3. Various articles.

Course Requirements

Requirement              Description                                                            Weight           Date

Seminar Engagement                 Weekly reflections on the week’s topic and participation.             15%                Recurring

Response Paper #1   A response to material from the first unit.         25%                14 Oct 2300

Response Paper #2   A response to material from the second unit.   30%                11 Nov 2300

Final Examination      A cumulative final examination.                          30%                TBA

Course Schedule

Week Topic Day Readings

Sep 03

No lectures or tutorials. Mon [no class]
Weds [no class]

Liberalism: Not What You Think It Is


Sep 10

Standpoints Mon Syllabus; Intro (IPP 1-5)
Weds E: James

Sep 17

The State of Nature Mon Hobbes (IPP: 9-17)
Weds Locke (IPP: 17-24)

Sep 24

The Social Contract Mon The Social Contract (IPP: 39-49)
Weds The Principle of Fairness (IPP:55-60)

Oct 01

Mon Mill on liberty (IPP: 104-114)
Free Speech I Weds FS: Chapter 2

 The Past is Now! 


Oct 08

Canada’s Shameful Legacy Mon [Rescheduled to Nov 30]
Weds E: Truth & Rec; Probs (IPP: 125-32)

Oct 15

Racism & Oppression Mon E: Du Bois; Justice (IPP:188-95)
Weds E: West (Ch 1)

Oct 22

Male Privilege: What It Is & Isn’t Mon E: McIntosh; Misogyny (IPP: 200-3)
Weds E: Mulvey

Oct 29

Equality & Equity Mon E: Cool; IPP: Rights for Women
Free Speech II Weds FS: Chapter 3

 Democracy: The Worst Form of Government* 


Nov 05

The Lie of Vox Populi Mon Plato… (IPP: 66-77)
Weds Rousseau… (IPP: 77-93)

Nov 12

Mon E: Dunning.
Democracy vs democracy Weds E: Dewey

Nov 19

Mon Rawls (IPP: 153-170)
Civil Disobedience Weds E: King

Nov 26

Mon E: Arendt
Free Speech III Weds FS: Chapter 5 & Conclusion
Fri [Review]

*except all the others

Legend. E: Electronic Reserve; FS: Free Speech: A Very Short Introduction; IPP: Introduction to Political Philosophy.