Social and Political Philosophy
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"Allegory of Justice" 1760, by Gandolfi Gaetano

PHL 370-01

POL 370-01


FALL 2010


Steven W. Patterson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Philosophy and Religious Studies Dept., Marygrove College

Contact Information

Office Phone: 313-927-1539
Departmental Phone: 313-927-1556
e-mail: Note: The best way to reach me is via e-mail. Remove the underscores before and after the '@' or just use this Contact form.
Office:346 Madame Cadillac Hall
Open Office Hours:Monday-Thursday, 9:30-10:30 AM If you cannot make it to open office hours, e-mail me to schedule an appointment.

Course Information

Meeting Times: Mondays and Wednesdays, 10:30-11:45 AM in LA 242
Credit Hours: 3, Satisfies General Education Requirements
Prerequisites:ENG-108; LS-105; and PHL-126, PHL-156 or PHL-276
NOTE: This class is cross-listed as PHL/POL 370. It may satisfy major requirements in both political science and philosophy. See your academic adviser for further details.

Course Objectives

The principal aim of this course is to furnish the student with an understanding of contemporary political philosophy as it frames public political discussion in our society. A student who successfully completes the course requirements will thus achieve familiarity with the principal concepts and approaches employed by philosophers and political theorists in their work on current political problems, and will have gained an understanding of how those concepts and approaches inform some of the most pressing and important political issues of the day.

An understanding of contemporary political theory is essential for framing any well-founded concept of social justice that is appropriate to our own social and political context. It goes without saying that those who would be leaders in any context ought to possess a theoretical framework adequate to the task of shaping the structure and practices of their institutions in a just way as well. Hence the second objective of this course is the cultivation a more refined understanding of social justice and a greater capacity to understand how principles of social justice both inform and are applied to real political debate.

Also integral to leadership is the ability to read, write, and think critically and carefully about difficult problems that resist easy solution. Hence the third objective of this course is the enhancement of students’ critical thinking abilities through the exercise of the analytical and imaginative skills that form the core of the philosophical method. We will devote substantial class time to honing these skills, and we will apply them in our discussions and especially to our writing assignments throughout the term. Because they are so widely applicable to concrete problems, development of the sort of critical thinking skills that make up the philosophical method is an essential part of general education, and one of the chief benefits of a course of this nature.

Finally, this course has been specifically designed to assist students in developing consistent routines and good habits for intellectual work. A student who completes the requirements will, in doing so, have cultivated not only those good work habits, but have enhanced his or her level of intellectual discipline as well. Thus the fourth and final objective of this course is helping students become more effective, self-motivated and self-disciplined life-long learners.

Core Questions

  1. Should we accept the authority of the state? Why or why not?
  2. What fundamentals (principles, institutions, etc.) are necessary for a just society? Why?
  3. Should questions of identity (e.g. personal identity, group identity, class identity, etc.) influence our thinking about justice? Why or why not??

Student Responsibilities



There will be four opportunities for students to write short papers of 700-1200 words. Students must choose and complete three of these assignments. Paper topics have been provided in advance for each assignment. Honors students may deviate from these topics with the instructor's approval. Everyone will do paper topic #1. Thereafter students are free to pick whichever paper topics they find most appealing. Due dates and topics are given in the course plan at the end of this syllabus.

The purposes of these short paper assignments are many. First and foremost, they provide students with an opportunity to reflect on the material and to engage it in a critical way. Secondly, they provide the instructor with a means of gauging students’ comprehension of the material and of identifying and appropriately addressing students’ strengths and weakness. Thirdly, the short paper assignments provide students with an opportunity to hone their critical thinking and writing skills through the continuous employment of those skills on topics of importance and interest, as well as through feedback gained via processes of peer review, class discussion, and grading.

Class Preparation Assignments

For many of our meetings there is required class preparation work. This usually involves answering questions associated with the material. All such assignments must be typed and printed out, and brought to class on the day given for them in the course schedule.Two sets of questions may be missed without penalty. Such assignments will be graded on an "all or nothing" system, according to the following guidelines:

  1. A serious attempt must be made to complete the assignment in its entirety. Answers like "I don't know", "I couldn't find it", or just leaving a blank space will result in no credit being given for the assignment.
  2. All assignments must be done in complete sentences of standard English, not with bullet points or notes.
  3. All assignments must be done "in your own words"—all this means is that you should not simply copy passages of text down as your answers, but make some attempt to synthesize and explain the material yourself as the assignment dictates.
  4. All assignments must be typed and printed in a reasonable font size, and multiple sheets must be stapled together. Do not use a cover sheet, folder, etc.
  5. You may work together outside of class on the assignments but copying is cheating. Any case of identical answers to the questions will result in the denial of credit to all parties.
  6. Plagiarism is strictly forbidden (see the course policies below).
  7. Remember that these assignments are for your benefit. You will be using them in class and as preparatory exercises for your papers. Put enough effort into them to make them useful in that regard.

Attendance and Participation

Philosophy, by its nature, is a highly discursive subject that requires a great deal of intellectual discipline and individual engagement of students both with the instructor and with each other. Because a community of thinkers is necessary to the enterprise, informed, consistent participation is the single most important component of our class work. Merely coming to class is not enough. The Participation component of the grade is based on two factors: 1) timely attendance to every class meeting, and 2) competent preparation and participation.

Timely Attendance:

Quality participation is impossible if one is absent or habitually late. So regular and timely attendance is expected and attendance will be taken at every class meeting (excepting the first week) via a sign-in sheet that will be circulated by the instructor at the beginning of class. Students in this class shall be allowed two (2) unexcused absences. Unexcused absences exceeding two and excessive lateness in attendance to class shall warrant deductions from the day’s participation grade. Excessive lateness shall be defined for our purposes as arriving at class fifteen minutes or more after class has begun. Excessive lateness and any absences will be excused upon proof of sufficiently extenuating circumstances to the satisfaction of the instructor.

Preparation and Participation:

Quality participation requires that you come to class prepared, and this entails doing the study questions provided for each reading on Blackboard. Although preparation is required, complete understanding is not a prerequisite for participation.

Some examples of how participation credit can be earned:
  • Thoughtful questions about the material
  • Thoughtful comments about the material
  • Philosophically relevant questions or comments, even if they’re not about the material
  • Respectful discussion with one’s colleagues at appropriate times
Some examples of how participation credit can be lost:
  • Being unprepared when called upon
  • Habitual/ Recurring Lateness
  • Inappropriate questions and comments
  • Any behavior that is disrespectful or that distracts from the learning of others.
  • Sleeping
  • Frequently departing from and returning to the classroom while class is in session
  • Text-messaging, web-surfing or otherwise manipulating small electronic devices while class is in session
  • Eating
  • Studying materials for other classes
  • Side discussions

The basic rule is: Good participation moves class discussion forward; poor participation hinders it.

The participation component of the course is intended to measure students’ preparedness, ability to deploy critical thinking skills discursively, and willingness and ability to function collegially with one another and with the instructor for the common purpose of meeting the course objectives.

Final Grade Distribution

Papers 45%
Class Prep Assignments 30%
Attendance and Participation 25%
Total 100%

Course Policies

Conduct Policy

It is expected that all persons in this class will comport themselves with the dignity and respect due to themselves and to their colleagues. This includes coming to class on time, refraining from having side-discussions while lecture is in progress, refraining from studying materials for other classes during lecture, refraining from bringing any food to class, refraining from texting during class, and leaving at home or turning off any and all items that make sudden, disruptive noises, especially cell phones. Please don’t bring children to class unless it is absolutely unavoidable, and if you must do so please notify me in advance as early as possible. Failure to observe these guidelines may result in deductions from the Participation grade.

Late and Make-up Work Policy

Students are accountable for turning in all assigned work on time. As in the "real world" late work is not accepted, ever, for any reason. Please don't ask. The answer is "no". You will be given sufficient time for the completion of all work assigned to you in this class. The opportunity to miss two sets of study questions and two days of class without penalty should compensate for the usual sort of absences. I will not even consider scheduling or accepting make-up assignments unless:

  1. more than two have been missed and
  2. highly unusual, severe, and sufficiently verifiable circumstances have been demonstrated to my satisfaction.

If you know, or suspect that you will be absent on the day that an assignment is due, please notify the instructor as far in advance as possible so that satisfactory alternative arrangements can be made. You cannot expect accommodation on short notice (i.e. phone messages left at 4 AM the morning of class).

Do not e-mail, FAX, or by any other means convey late or early assignments to the instructor without a prior arrangement to do so. Assignments received in such ways will be disregarded.

If you miss class for any reason, it is your responsibility to get the notes from a classmate and familiarize yourself with whatever material you may have missed. I do not give out my notes.

I highly recommend making at least one contact in class who can provide you with notes and assignments in the event that you miss class. In the interest of fairness to all, no make-up work of any

Withdrawal Policy

All withdrawal slips will be signed with no questions asked. Incompletes (grades of “I”) will not be given unless: 1) highly unusual and severe circumstances prevent a student from completing the work necessary to complete the class, 2) enough work has been done, in the instructor’s judgment, to leave only a minimal amount of work remaining for the student to complete, and 3) the student expressly requests a such a grade at least one week before the day scheduled by the College for the final exam.

Plagiarism and Cheating Policy

Plagiarism or cheating on any assignment will not be tolerated for any reason. Should you do either you will receive an “E” for the assignment on the first occasion, and the student’s adviser and the Dean will be informed in accord with Marygrove’s academic standards policy. Repeated offenses will merit stronger disciplinary measures, which the instructor will pursue. Students are encouraged to consult the Academic Honesty policy in the Undergraduate Catalog for more detailed information.

Required Texts

For this class the required texts are:

  1. John Christman, Social and Political Philosophy: A Contemporary Introduction (New York: Routledge) 2002. ISBN: 0-415-21798-9.
  2. Social Justice, eds. Matthew Clayton and Andrew Williams (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers) 2004. ISBN: 1-4051-1146-1.

Students are responsible for timely acquisition of the course texts. Failure to acquire the texts will adversely affect student preparedness and performance.

Please note:

  • if you choose to order your books online, order them by ISBN to be sure that you get the precise edition(s) we will be using.
  • While no other books are required, it is strongly recommended that you obtain or secure access to a collegiate level dictionary and thesaurus (I recommend the handy combination of both in the Oxford Pocket Dictionary and Thesaurus, American Edition, ISBN 0-19-513097-9), and a style manual for written English such as the classic Elements of Style by Strunk and White (Fourth Edition, Allyn & Bacon, ISBN 0-205-30902) Regular access to and use of such references will be assumed.

Instructor Responsibilities


Grading is the instructor's responsibility. Students have the right to grades given solely on the merit of the points achieved and weighted as described under the Assignments section of this syllabus. Accordingly, no curves, preset distributions, or other forms of manipulation will be used. All grades will be based solely on the quality of work as reflected in the points achieved. Remember that no one grade says anything about one’s overall intelligence, personal work ethic or personality. A grade (in this class at least) merely reflects performance on the assignments. Concentrate on developing your understanding of the material and the grades will follow.

Grading Scale

The grading scale below will be used to determine all letter grades in this class, including the final grade. It is completely and without exception a non-negotiable item.

A 100% - 94.5% A- 94.4% - 88.9% B+ 88.8% - 85.2%
B 85.1% - 81.5% B- 81.4% - 77.8% C+ 77.7% - 74.1%
C 74.0% - 70.4% C- 70.3% - 66.7% D+ 66.6% - 63.0%
D 62.9% - 59.3% D- 59.2% - 55.6% E 55.5% - 0%

Syllabus Revisions

The instructor bears the sole responsibility to revise any part of this syllabus should it become necessary to do so. Any such revision that takes place will be announced in class with as much advance notice as the circumstances permit. It is the student’s responsibility to remain abreast of any such changes and to alter his or her own workload accordingly. In the absence of any notification to the contrary, students should follow the course plan and reading schedule as given below, or the most recent set of revisions (if any have been made). The silence of this syllabus on any matter that may arise pertaining to this class shall not be construed to indicate that the matter is up for debate. The instructor’s interpretation of this syllabus shall be final and binding.


Students are welcome to stop by the instructor’s office anytime. Appointments are only necessary for meetings requested at times other than office hours. The most effective way to reach the instructor outside of office hours is by e-mail. Second best is by office phone. The instructor will make every effort to answer reasonable requests for help with class related matters so long as such requests are respectful. Students should be aware that e-mails sent before 9 AM, after 9 PM, or anytime on Sunday will generally not be answered right away. The same goes for phone calls placed during times other than office hours.

Disability Policy

The Instructor will, by arrangement with the student and Disability Support Services (DSS), offer reasonable accomodation for all properly documented, College-recognized disabilities. DSS offers a variety of services and accommodations to students with disabilities based on appropriate documentation, nature of disability, and academic need. In order to initiate services, students should meet with the Coordinator of DSS at the start of the semester to discuss reasonable accommodations. If a student does not request accommodations or provide documentation to DSS, the faculty member is under no obligation to provide academic accommodations. You may contact the Coordinator of DSS at 313-927-1427 or through e-mail at

John Rawls: "Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical"
Robert Nozick: "Distributive Justice"
Richard Arneson: "The Principle of Fairness and Free-Rider Problems"
Richard Arneson: "Luck Egalitarianism and Prioritarianism"
John Kekes: "A Question for Egalitarians"
G. A. Cohen: "The Structure of Proletarian Unfreedom"

William Galston: "Value Pluralism and Liberal Political Theory"
Thomas Nagel: "Moral Conflict and Political Legitimacy"
Iris Marion Young: "Polity and Group Difference"

Course Plan

Week 1: Course Introduction

Mon.9/6 No class meeting

Weds. 9/8

Required Reading: Read this website thoroughly
Required Work: none

Week 2:

Mon. 9/13

Required Reading: none
Required Work:

  • Take the World’s Smallest Political Quiz, and be prepared to discuss your interpretation of your results in class.
  • The Core Questions will be discussed in class. You can find them on this page under 'Course Information' above. Typed or computer-printed answers to the core questions should be brought to this class meeting. A page or two should suffice for the entire assignment.

Weds. 9/15

Required Reading: none, there will be a workshop on pro/con argumentation
Required Work:

Week 3:

Mon. 9/20

Required Reading: Introduction up to and including the section entitled “Preliminaries, Part I: Method”, in Christman, pp. 1-14
Required Work: Using the sheet I gave you, diagram the pro and con argumentation in the following case:

A Dilemma:

Bart is a single father of 4 children living well below the poverty line (his wife died giving birth to their youngest). Unemployment ran out a long time ago. Since then he has earnestly tried to find a job but so far has been unsuccessful. Each day his kids grow hungrier and hungrier and winter is approaching soon. Bart and his family live in an area with very limited support for the poor and they have used up their allotment of what little support there is. One day a man asks Bart if he would like to join the crew of the pirate ship Revenge. The terms of the deal are that he must sign on for one year, and that while he's at sea his children will be well cared for in the home of the captain's wife. Bart asks to see her home and indeed it is full of the happy, well-fed children of sailors aboard the Revenge. Still skeptical, Bart seeks out other sailors and crew members and to a man finds that all their families are well-cared for while they are at sea. Bart imagines his children playing happily in front of the warm fire. Then he imagines himself being hung for piracy, or shot in a sea battle. If he refuses the offer nothing will happen to him or his family (the local sheriff has no time for or interest in such things as he's under pressure from the Duke to collect taxes). Of course, if he refuses the offer, there is a good chance his family will not make it through the rapidly approaching winter.

What should Bart do?

1. What is the central issue to be resolved?
2. What are the arguments in favor?
3. What are the arguments against?

Weds. 9/22

Required Reading: all remaining sections of the Introduction in Christman, pp. 15-22
Required Work: none

Week 4: Legitimacy and Authority

Mon. 9/27

Required Reading: Chapter 2, “The Problem of Political Authority”, up to and including the section entitled “Hobbes’s Social Contract” in Christman, pp. 25-41
Required Work: none

Weds. 9/29

Required Reading: Read all remaining sections of Chapter 2 in Christman, pp. 41-59
Required Work: Write and print out a 1-2 page response to the questions posed by Christman in the “Cases to Consider” section at the end of the chapter.

Week 5: Who Gets What and Says Who? Conceptions of Distributive Justice

Mon. 10/4

Required Reading: Chapter 3, “Distributive Justice”, up to and including the section entitled “Libertarianism” in Christman, pp. 60-74
Required Work: none

Short Essay #1 is due on this day. See the paper topics for more information.

Weds. 10/6

Required Reading: Chapter 3, “Distributive Justice”, up to and including the section entitled “Varieties of Egalitarianism” in Christman, pp. 74-87
Required Work: none

Week 6: Rawls

Mon. 10/11

Required Reading:

  • Read all remaining sections of Chapter 3 in Christman, pp. 87-93.
  • Read the entry for "Distributive Justice” in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Required Work: Write and print out a 1-2 page response to the questions posed by Christman in the “Cases to Consider” section at the end of the chapter.

Weds. 10/13

Required Reading: John Rawls, “On Justice as Fairness” in Clayton and Williams, pp.49-67
Required Work: Answer questions 1-6 of the reading guide for Rawls.

Week 7: Nozick

Mon. 10/18

Required Reading:

  • Continue reading Rawls, “On Justice as Fairness” in Clayton and Williams, pp.67-82
  • Read the entry for "Liberalism" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Required Work: Answer questions 7-11 of the reading guide for Rawls.

Weds. 10/20

Required Reading: Read Robert Nozick, "An Entitlement Theory” in Clayton and Williams, pp. 85-95
Required Work: Answer questions 1-5 of the reading guide for Nozick

Week 8: Dworkin

Mon. 10/25

Required Reading:

  • Continue reading Nozick, “An Entitlement Theory” in Clayton and Williams, pp. 95-105
  • Read the entry for "Libertarianism" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Required Work: Answer questions 6-9 of the reading guide for Nozick

Short Essay #2 is due on this day. See the paper topics for more information.

Weds. 10/27

Required Reading: Read Ronald Dworkin, “Equality of Resources” in Clayton and Williams, pp.110-125
Required Work: Answer questions 1-5 of the reading guide for Dworkin

Revisions for Short Essay #1 are due on this day.

Week 9:

Mon. 11/1

Required Reading:

  • Continue reading “Equality of Resources” in Clayton and Williams, pp.125-132
  • Read the entry for "Equality" in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Required Work: Do Questions 6-10 of the reading guide for Dworkin

Weds. 11/3

Day rescheduled.

Week 10: Anderson

Mon. 11/8

Syllabus revision day; paper discussion
Required Reading: Read sections I-IV of Elizabeth Anderson, “Against Luck Egalitarianism: What is the Point of Equality?” in Clayton and Williams, pp. 154-169.
Required Work: Answer questions 1-5 from the reading guide for Anderson.

Weds. 11/10

Required Reading: Read all remaining sections of Elizabeth Anderson, “Against Luck Egalitarianism: What is the Point of Equality?” in Clayton and Williams, pp. 169-180.
Required Work: Answer questions 6-12 from the reading guide for Anderson.

Short Essay #3 is due on this day. See the paper topics for more information.

Week 11: Miller

Mon. 11/15

No Class Meeting.

Weds. 11/17

Required Reading: Read sections I-III of David Miller,"The Concept of Desert" in Clayton and Williams, pp. 186-193
Required Work: Answer questions 1-7 from the reading guide for Miller

Week 12:

Mon. 11/22

Required Reading: Read all remaining sections of David Miller,"The Concept of Desert" in Clayton and Williams, pp. 193-197
Required Work: Answer questions 8-10 from the reading guide for Miller

Weds. 11/24

Thanksgiving Holiday: no class meeting

Week 13: Toleration and Pluralism

Mon. 11/29

Required Reading:

  • Read Chapter 4, “Toleration, Pluralism, and the Foundations of Liberalism” up to and including the section entitled “The Perfectionist Challenge” in Christman, pp. 94-108.
  • Liberalism handout

Required Work: none

Weds. 12/1

Required Reading: Read all remaining sections of Chapter 4 in Christman, pp. 108-122.
Required Work: Write and print out a 1-2 page response to the questions posed by Christman in the “Cases to Consider” section at the end of the chapter.

Week 14: The Idea of Community

Mon. 12/6

Required Reading: Read all of Chapter 5 in Christman, pp. 125-151
Required Work:

Short Essay #4 is due on this day. See the paper topics for more information.

Weds. 12/8

Required Reading: Read all of Chapter 5 in Christman, pp. 125-151
Required Work: Write and print out a 1-2 page response to the questions posed by Christman in the “Cases to Consider” section at the end of the chapter.

Week 15: Finals Week

Revisions for all essays will be due in class at the beginning of class on the day scheduled by the College for our final exam. See the paper topics for more information.

PHL 370 Honors Project

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