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Contemporary theories of justice

Syllabus for pre-PhD Distance learning course on Philosophy

CONTEMPORARY THEORIES OF JUSTICE

Naira Mkrtchyan, Ph.D, Associate Professor
Yerevan State University, Distance Learning Laboratory

1. Course module description
This course module is devoted to the contemporary conceptions of justice. Being a regulative idea for centuries justice has been interpreted in different ways. Some contemporary theories and philosophers propose their normative approaches on social reality- how it should be organized, how should social goods be distributed in order to be called just, what are the criteria, principles of this distribution? What is the role of basic values etc.? This course module serves as a review to the discipline of social philosophy with a primary emphasis on organizational principles. It is designed for graduate students whose exposure and background in the discipline are limited, and undergraduate seniors bringing their undergraduate program to a conclusion and planning on pursuing further additional training and careers in philosophy.

2. Objectives of the course module
2.1 To introduce students with the core concepts of social philosophy.
2.2 To reveal the role of organizational principles in social reality in general.
2.3 To uncover the basics in relationships between society and person.
2.4 To consider different scientific debates on the organization of social reality.
2.5 To identify their conceptual failures and achievements.
2.6 To enable students thinking in socio-philosophical terms and mode.

3. Assessment
Since this is a distance-learning course, the assessment will be based only on students’ written work.

  • Weekly written essays – 60%
  • Final essay - 40%

4. Course module program

Class 1   20th century and the revitalization of modern discourse on justice
- The transformations of sociality in 20th century.
- The influence of transformations on the revitalization of modernistic conceptions on social reality.
- Value pluralism or value monism.
- I. Berlin’s critique of monism.
- Two concepts of liberty.

Readings:

  • Berlin Isaiah (1969), Four Essays on Liberty, Oxford University Press, London, Oxford.
  • Berlin Isaiah (2004), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu.

Assignment 1:
Please, answer to the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • Why and how is the issue of justice considered in different social theories?
  • How do the transformations of sociality revitalize the modernistic conceptions on social reality?
  • What are the differences between the approaches on the modern discourse of justice in the second half of 20th century?
  • Why and how does I. Berlin criticize value monism?
  • How does Berlin interpret value pluralism?
  • What is the main difference between negative and positive conceptions of liberty?

Class 2   J. Rawls and his institutional approach of justice as fairness.
- The critique of utilitarian and intuitionist conceptions of justice.
- The idea of a moral person and its characteristics.
- Rational equilibrium.
- Well-ordered society and the possibilities of social cooperation.

Readings:

  • Rawls John(2005), A theory of Justice, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, London.
  • Rawls John(1999), Justice as Fairness, In: Collected papers, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, London.
  • Rawls John( 1999), Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory, In: Collected papers, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, London.

Assignment 2:
Please, answer to the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • Why is the Rawlsian account of justice called institutional?
  • How does Rawls criticize the utilitarian and intuitionist accounts of justice?
  • What conceptual differences does he trace between his own and utilitarian accounts of justice?
  • How does he characterize a moral person of an agreement?

Class 3   Two principles of Justice as Deontological Principles
- The circumstances of justice.
- The ideas of original position and the veil of ignorance.
- Two principles of justice.

Readings:

  • Rawls John(2005), A theory of Justice, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, London.

Assignment 3:
Please, answer to the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • How do the circumstances determine the agreement on the principles of justice?
  • What warrants the impartiality of two principles of justice?
  • How is the original position described?
  • How do the principles of justice in the Rawlsian formulation meet the social issues?
  • What is the main difference between I. Berlin’s and J. Rawl’s approaches?

Class 4   Universalism versus particularism. Simple equality versus complex equality
- The problems of the Self and Social context in Deontological conception of justice.
- The critique of universalistic position.
- M. Walzer and his idea of complex equality.
- Shared understandings, social goods and the criteria of their distribution.
- The achievements and failures of Walzer’s theory.

Readings:

  • Communitarianism (2001), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu.
  • Walzer Michael (1989), Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, Basil Blackwell, Oxford.
  • Rustin Michael(2003), Equality in Post-Modern Times, In: Pluralism, justice and equality, ed. D. Miller and M. Walzer, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • Barry Brian (2003), Spherical Justice and Global Injustice, In: Pluralism, justice and equality, ed. D. Miller and M. Walzer, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Assignment 4:
Please, answer to the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • Why and how is universalism criticized by the particularistic perspective?
  • How does M. Walzer justify his conception of complex equality in comparison with the simple equality?
  • Why are there many distributional spheres and principles?
  • How are goods transformed into the social goods?
  • How is the conception of complex equality failed?

Class 5   Teleological conception of justice
- Deontological conception of justice versus teleological conception of justice.
- The critique of the Rawlsian conception justice.
- The idea of good life, ends of community and their role in the formulation of principles of justice.

Readings:

  • Sandel Michael (1998), Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Assignment 5:
Please, answer to the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • Why is the Sandel’s conception of justice described as teleological?
  • How does it differ from the Walzer’s communitarian account?
  • Why is the deontological conception of Self is failed?
  • How does Sandel identify the conceptual failures of the Rawlsian account of justice?
  • How does he trace the differences in the conceptions of community?

Class 6   Capabilities approach
- The critique of the methodological principles in contractarian ideas on Justice.
- The failures in the Ralwsian conception.
- Ten capabilities.
- A Noncontractarian account of Care.

Readings:

  • Nussbaum Martha (2006), Frontiers of Justice. Disability, nationality, species membership, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, London.
  • Nussbaum Martha (2006), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 6, Thomson Gale, New York.

Assignment 6:
Please, answer to the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • Where and how the Rawlsian conception of justice failed according to capabilities approach?
  • How does capabilities approach present the interconnections of personal life and social circumstances?
  • Why is this approach called “capabilities”?
  • How are the main capabilities listed?

Class 7   Equality of resources
- The welfarist theories.
- Equality of resources versus equality of welfare.
- The account of human life.
- The principle of equal importance and the principle of special responsibility.
- The Self and the community.
- Liberty and equality.

Readings:

  • Dworkin Ronald (2002), Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality, Harward University Press, Cambridge, London.

Assignment 7:
Please, answer to the following questions (up to 5 pages):

  • How many welfarist theories does Dworkin distinguish?
  • How does he criticize theories of welfare?
  • What are the main differences between the equality of resources and the equality of resources?
  • How is it connected to the success of human life?
  • How is the concept of successful human life connected to the whole theory of equality of resources?
  • How does Dworkin view the realization of equality of resources?

Class 8  Closing exam
Based on your interest, choose any topic rdiscussed within this course module and write an analytical essay (13-15 pages).

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