Book Outline




Politics: the art or process of using words to organize people into groups, to create institutions that further our interest, to invent rules of behavior that embody our values and can guide our actions

Political philosophy: the attempt to provide a rational structure for our rules, to make sense of politics, to critically assess and justify institutions and governmental systems

A subset of moral philosophy

Biography: when 16, his school mates firebombed a black family; 1960s civil rights activist; preacher in black church

Reinhold Niebuhr: opposed SDS activity at Columbia University; our freedoms are threatened by anarchic revolutionaries; humans are so sinful that our ideals are likely to be corrupted by flawed character



Fall of the Soviet Union, rise in ethnic cleansing and terrorism;  9/11



1. On Political Philosophy

Political philosophy defined: inquiry into the meaning of political concepts and the justification of theories about the nature and purpose of government

Questions: Why should I obey the state? How should the state be constituted? What is the justification of the state? What are the principal functions of the State? Should the state be a national or international body? Should states be nation-states, or cosmopolitan?

Political science is descriptive, political philosophy is prescriptive (how political institutions ought to function)

State and nation

State: has authority over a geographical domain (laws, constitution, institutions)

Nation: a group of people who are tied together through cultural phenomena including ethnic similarity, language, literature, history, myth, religion

One state, many nations (Great Britain); one nation, many states (Korea)

Ferdinand Tonnies distinguishes between community (nation), society (state)

Nation-state: the two are combined

2. The Relationship of Ethics to Political Philosophy

Ethical Relativism and Objectivism


Ethical relativism: the moral rightness and wrongness of actions vary from society to society, and there are no objective universal moral standards binding on all people at all times

Ethical objectivism: even though different societies hold different moral codes, an objective core morality exists, made up of universally valid moral principles

Cultural relativism (descriptive thesis based on anthropological data): different cultures hold different moral codes; there is cultural diversity

Argument for ethical relativism

Diversity thesis: what is considered morally right and wrong varies from society to society, so there are no moral principles that all societies accept (true descriptive thesis of cultural relativism)

Dependency thesis: all moral principles derive their validity from cultural acceptance (Sumner’s view)

Weak view: the application of moral principles depends on one’s culture

Strong view: the moral principles themselves depend on one’s culture

Ethical relativism: therefore, there are no universally valid moral principles, no objective standards that apply to all people everywhere and at all times

Subjective Ethical Relativism (Subjectivism)

Moral judgments are person-relative

Criticism: notions of good and bad cease to have interpersonal evaluative meaning

Conventional Ethical Relativism (Conventionalism)

Argument for intercultural tolerance (anthropologist Melville Herskovits)

If morality is relative to its culture, then there is no independent basis for criticizing the morality of any other culture but one’s own

If there is no independent way of criticizing any other culture, then we ought to be tolerant of the moralities of other cultures

Therefore, we ought to be tolerant of the moralities of other cultures.

Criticisms of ethical relativism

Criticism: argument for tolerance self-refuting since tolerance would be an absolute principle

Criticism: can’t criticize anyone who espouses heinous principles (Hitler’s genocidal actions)

Criticism: moral reformers are always wrong

Criticism: civil disobedience isn’t justifiable

Criticism: unless we have an independent moral basis for law, it is hard to see why we have any general duty to obey it

Criticism: since we are members of different subcultures, we can be morally right and wrong at the same time (e.g., a Catholic having a legal abortion in the US)

Arguments for ethical objectivism

There are some core moral values that we see throughout the world (O.E. Wilson, rejection of the diversity thesis)

There may be diversity in how we apply the moral principles (weak diversity principle), but the moral principles themselves are objective

Moderate Objectivism

Ross’s prima facie duties: there are valid rules of action that one should generally adhere to but that in cases of moral conflict may be overridable by another moral principle

List of ten core principles of morality

Do not kill innocent people

Do not cause unnecessary pain or suffering

Do not steal or cheat

Keep your promises and honor your contracts

Do not deprive another person of his or her freedom

Tel the truth, or at least, don’t lie

Do justice, giving people what they deserve

Reciprocate; show gratitude for services rendered

Help other people, especially when the cost to oneself is minimal

Obey just laws

These principles are necessary for the good life within a flourishing human community

Other rules may apply in special circumstances (e.g., water usage in a desert community; laws permitting polygamy when there are more women than men)

Two Types of Ethical Theories (both objectivist)

Deontological: there are foundational duties that we must follow

Consequentialist: morality depends on the good consequences that result from an action

Act-utilitarianism: an act is right if and only if it results in as much good as any available alternative

Rule-utilitarianism: an act is right if and only if it is required by a rule that is itself a member of a set of rules whose acceptance would lead to greater utility for society than any available alternative

Criticism: we could always create more good consequences by breaking a general rule (e.g., lying to protect someone’s feelings)

Response: three levels of rules (1) general moral rules (e.g., don’t lie), (2) conflict resolving rules (lie to protect someone’s feelings), (3) use your best judgment when no rules apply




Introduction: Political Authority


1. Why Not Anarchism?

Political Anarchism: The state is unjustified because it improperly infringes on human autonomy

Autonomy: self-directed freedom; a fundamental moral absolute, which the state has no right to violate

Positive anarchism (Proudhon): human nature is good, and all forms of government are bad since by restricting us they prevent us from attaining perfection

Negative anarchism (Wolff): human nature is not necessarily good; however, all governmental authority is fundamentally in conflict with human autonomy (and autonomy is essential for morality)

Eradicating governments is impossible, but the governmental authority is illegitimate

Responses to Anarchism

Religious Answer: governments are instituted by God for the protection of the people and the public good

Divine right of kings

Criticism: assumes God exists, that God presides over us, that we can know the will of God

Social Contract and Principle of Consent (Locke, Hobbes): government is based on the consent of the governed

People voluntarily give up to the state their natural freedom in order to have their interest served

Tacit/implied  consent to obey through residence (few people explicitly consent)

Criticism (Hume): poor people don’t have a free choice to leave their country, so there is no meaningful tacit consent

Principle of Fair Play (Hart, Rawls): the function of the state is to promote justice as fairness

Freeloading is unfair

Nozick: since I don’t want the current social scheme to begin with, I can’t be responsible for keeping it going even if I do derive some benefit

Two kinds of benefits (Simmons)

Open benefit: benefits I receive whether I want them or not

Readily available benefit: available benefits that I must actively accept

Principle of Gratitude (Plato, Ross): receiving benefits creates a duty to obey the law

Criticism: gratitude is a personal and indefinite relationship, which as such doesn’t apply to the state

Indefinite (Kantian “imperfect” duty): it is open as to how you repay your debt

Personalness: gratitude does not apply to an impersonal entity like a state (e.g., “we are grateful to the laws of logic for preventing contradictions from becoming true”)

2. A Thought Experiment: A Bottom-up Project of Justifying Government

Idealistic students leave the mainland and set up a utopia on an island

The first generation will abide by the rules and preserve the original ideals

The second generation will not be committed to the ideals; envy, greed and disregard of social good arises (

An Application of the Theories of Justification

Four justifications for the utopian government:

Explicit consent (dies with first generation)

Tacit consent (dwindles after second generation)

Utility (continues after successive generations)

Fair-play (continues after successive generations)

Utilitarian/consequentialist answer: government is a tool for maximizing human happiness

Hume: the government cannot survive without compliance




Mill's Theory of Liberty

Three principles:

The nonanarchy principle or self-protection principle (harm to others principle): the state con interfere with our liberty to prevent harm to others

The harm principle (non-paternalism): the state cannot interfere with individuals for their own good

The liberty principle: individuals may do whatever they desire to do, so long as they are not harming others

Argument for free speech regarding unpopular ideas:

The prohibited idea may be true, thus leading to the discovery of the truth

The prohibited idea may be partially true, leading to a fuller understanding of the truth

The prohibited idea may be false, but responding to it will help us better understand the orthodox position

Only through deep and vigorous intellectual debate can justified beliefs become fully appreciated by us. We need devil’s advocates to awake us from our dogmatic slumber

Criticisms of Mill

Is Liberty an Intrinsic Good?

James Fitzjames Stephens: liberty is not an intrinsic good, but is good only because it enables us to do good things (e.g., fire is not an intrinsic good, but is good only for the good things it produces)

Response: Mill recognizes this insofar as he permits governmental interference when our liberty harms others

No Man is an Island

Almost everything we do has an impact on others, which diminishes our zone of liberty

Response: the issue isn’t simply whether our actions harm others, but whether they unjustly harm others (e.g., my marriage to a woman that you want to marry isn’t an unjust harm)

Response (Feinberg): offensive harms should be tolerated except when we cannot avoid them and they violate our autonomy (e.g., we can look away, change the channel)

Negative and Positive Liberty

Two kinds of freedom (Isaiah Berlin)

Negative (political): the freedom to do whatever we want, without being interfered with by others

Internal component: freedom from lack of information, lack of ability, ignorance, lack of understanding

External component: freedom from physical compulsion, coercive incentives

Positive: genuine freedom to become your real or rational self

Internal component: freedom from weakness of will, compulsive habits, neurosis, obsessions

External component: deficient resources

Mill’s liberty is mainly negative external

Agonistic liberty or value pluralism (Berlin’s notion): seek for an uneasy equilibrium between competing and sometimes incompatible values

One’s own value commitments do not form a complete vision of politics and society

e.g., the moral life of a nun is incompatible with that of a mother, yet there is no purely rational measure of which is preferable



Mandating seatbelts, motorcycle helmets, drug by prescription, blood transfusions for children

Prohibiting dueling, gambling, suicide, recreational drugs

Pojman’s example with forcing his daughter to finish her paper

We may intervene when someone is not fully autonomous, e.g., when

The paternalist should have intimate knowledge of the agent

The agent is not functioning in a fully rational mode

The paternalist must do all he or she can do to persuade the agent to consider the act in question

The paternalist must have reason to believe that once the agent gets through the crises, she or he will agree that the paternalist acted correctly and will be grateful for the intervention

Dworkin: paternalism is sometimes justified even by Mill’s own premises (e.g., programs like social security that are rational insurance policies)

Should the State Limit Free Speech?

Stanley Fish: “There’s no such thing as free speech and it’s a good thing too”

The notion of free speech is just rhetoric, and we in fact regulate speech based on our political needs (e.g., restricting hate speech)

Free speech is what is consistent with our political goals

Criticism: Fish is right that speech has consequences and the right is not absolute; however there is a difference between disrespectful speech and speech where truth is the goal

Liberty and the Tragedy of the Commons

If individuals have unlimited freedom to access natural resources held in common will deplete or ruin those resources (grazing fields, air, water); thus each country must limit its liberty and manage its resources

Ratchet effect (some processes cannot go backwards): the wrong kind of intervention irretrievably makes matters worse

e.g., food aid keeps alive people who would otherwise die in a famine; these people survive and reproduce, thus creating a bigger crisis since the supply of food has not been increased.

e.g., government subsidies for special interest groups that don’t benefit the country as a whole and lead to overspending


Mill’s principle of liberty applies to only mature, responsible adults

e.g., allow motorcyclists to ride without helmets, but refuse them health care when they are injured



Introduction: The Meaning of Equality

Empirical fact: people are not equal (take any personal characteristic)

Abstract theories of equality (egalitarianism):

Kymlicka: “Every plausible political theory has the same ultimate value, which is equality”

Dworkin: we’ve reached an “abstract egalitarian plateau” on which all political discussion must now take place

Equality is identified with justice, inequality injustice

There are competing theories of equality, and it’s not clear which is the correct one

Formal Equality

Formal vs. substantive equality

Formal equality: states a formula or policy but includes no specific content

Substantive equality: identifies a concrete criterion or standard by which distribution policies are to be assessed

Aristotle: “injustice arises when equals are treated unequally and unequals equally”

Bob has X degree of P (e.g., need; merit; desire) which implies that Bob should have X degree of Q (e.g., assistance; reward; fulfillment)

Joe has Y degree of P which implies that Joe should have Y degree of Q

P and Q are left unspecified, but almost anything could apply

Puritan punishment: everyone who is a nonbelievers (P) should be put to death (Q)

No substantive conclusions follow from purely formal conceptions of equality

e.g., equality before the law just says that we all should be judged by the same laws

Substantive Equality

Two questions of substantive equality:

Question 1: Which types of inequality are morally indefensible?

Question 2: What should be done about it?

Analysis of Question 2:

Interventionism (liberal and socialist position): the state should intervene and make things equal (e.g., redistribute resources)

Non-interventionism (conservative and libertarian position): the state should not intervene, but leave change to market forces and voluntary action

Analysis of Question 1:

French Revolution “Manifesto of the Equals”: “Let there be no other differences between people than that of age or sex”; eliminate the arts since they hinder equality

Natural lottery: since we don’t deserve our native endowments or our better family backgrounds, we don’t deserve the results of what we do with those endowments

List of possibly indefensible inequalities

Resources, economic benefits (wealth), power, prestige, class, welfare, satisfaction of desire, satisfaction of interest, need, opportunity

Universal enfranchisement (voting rights)

Marx: not sufficient since effective participation in the political process requires wealth, education, leisure

Equal welfare

Criticism: we can’t ensure that everyone has the same welfare level, since people have different requirements to live the good life (e.g., Bill Gates vs. a Trappist monk)

Equality as an Intrinsic/Instrumental good

Instrumental good (i.e., equality is good to the degree that it produces positive consequences)

Intrinsic good (i.e., equality good in itself, regardless of the positive or negative consequences)

Jencks (report on American education): inequality that derives from biology ought to be as repulsive as inequality that derives from early socialization)

Richard Watson: if equal distribution of food were to result in no one’s getting enough to eat, we should nevertheless choose this annihilation of the human race rather than an unequal distribution

Three ways of achieving equality between people

Bring the worst-off and those in between up to the level of the best off;

Bring the best off and those in between down to the level of the worst off;

Bring the worst off up and the best off down to meet in between

Criticism: even if equality is an intrinsic good, it may not be the only one (e.g., liberty, efficiency, fraternity, desert, merit)

Criticism: what is the basis of the intuition that equality is an intrinsic good (e.g., natural intuition, aesthetic feeling, religious conviction that we’re all made in the image of God)

Practical consequences of political emphasis for equality

Justified many wars

Tocqueville: criticizes American emphasis on equality; the desire for equality “leads the weak to want to drag the strong down to their level and … induces men to prefer equality in servitude to inequality in freedom”

Hare: “When inequality is the general rule in society, the greatest inequalities attract no attention. When everything is more or less level, the slightest variation is noticed. Hence the more equal men are, the more insatiable will be their longing for equality”

Resource vs. Welfare Egalitarianism

Resource egalitarianism (Rawls, Dworkin): in societies of abundance, human beings are entitled to equally valuable shares of the resources (e.g., wealth)

Criticism: unfair since people have different basic needs (e.g., someone in wheel chair needs extra resources)

Criticism: leads to slavery of the talented; people with talent will have to bid away great sums of their other resources to preserve the use of their talents

Welfare egalitarianism (Hare, Nielsen): in abundant societies, people should also receive equal welfare (fulfillment or preference satisfaction)

Criticism: creates problems when we have desires that affect other people; e.g., the racist’s desire that his race flourish at the expense of others

Criticism:  people with expensive tastes can take from the modest resources of contented persons


The Doctrine of Equal Human Worth and Metaphysical Equality (equality as an intrinsic value)

All humans are of equal and positive worth because of some intrinsic property

e.g., God’s image (Genesis), spark of divinity (Stoics), rationality (Kant)

Three problems

Identifying the relevant property

e.g., is rationality (or rational autonomy) intrinsically valuable?

Discovering whether we have equal amounts of it

e.g., why doesn’t having more rational autonomy make us more valuable?

Discovering whether a person maintains the property over time

All or nothing theories of equality

Kant and Rawls: it’s an all or nothing concept

Vlastos: “the human worth of all persons is equal, however unequal may be their merit”

Family metaphor: all members of a family are equally valuable, even though they have different qualities

Humanity is nongradable (unlike talents which are gradable)

Criticism: Smith (a lazy moral degenerate) claims he has infinite worth; a Martin would find such claim silly (i.e., Gandhi seems to have more value than Hitler)

Criticism: the family metaphor breaks down because we aren’t willing to make significant sacrifices for non-relatives

Nagel’s theory: we have essential value viewed from an impersonal standpoint


1. I cannot help valuing myself as a subject of positive and negative experience (e.g., suffering, happiness, fulfillment, or frustration)

2. All other humans are relevantly similar to me, subjects of positive and negative consequences

3. Therefore, I must, on pain of contradiction, ascribe equal value to all other human beings

Criticism: our personal value may derive from a complex of qualities that we might lose

Should I become immoral, insane, or desperately disease-ridden, I would be valueless and I would hope to die as swiftly as possible

Criticism: rests too heavily on the agent’s judgment of him/herself

If I don’t value myself, then I’ll conclude that others are also of no value

I can decide that no one is of value and thus conclude that I’m not of value

Criticism: Nagel theory endorses both utility maximization and equality, which lead to conflict

Legal Equality

Basic meaning of legal equality

The law should be applied impartially

If persons A and B both break law L, which carries the penalty P, A and B (minus mitigating circumstances) should pay the same penalty

This is a formal notion of equality, not a substantive one

Laws permitting discrimination are on the same footing as laws forbidding discrimination

Weston: legal equality is not just empty, but of negative value since it misleads us into thinking that substantive principles can be derived from formal equality

e.g., Carey v Brown allowed a protester to picket at a Chicago mayor’s residence since the law allowed people to picket at one’s place of employment (the issue is really one of free speech, not of equality before the law)





The Concept of 'Equal Opportunity'

Definition: two people A and B have an equal opportunity to attain some goal or good G with regard to some specific obstacle X, if and only if neither is hindered from attaining G by X.

Implies meritocracy, i.e., the practice of appointing the best-qualified person for the position in question

The doctrine of equal opportunity is consistent with unequal results: people are very different from each other in abilities and in effort


Types of Equal Opportunity

Arbitrary Equal Opportunity: no one has a right to expect anything in life more than anyone else; everything is governed by chance

Rules should be made equal to all (e.g., repealing Jim Crow laws so blacks have equal access to education and all of life’s opportunities)

Meritocratic Equal Opportunity: finding the best qualified person for the job

Procedural Equal Opportunity (means-regarding): each person has the chance to develop his or her talents

The state offers each citizen a similar toolbox to compete in the market place (education, welfare, job training)

Provides equal means, not just identical rules

State provides external means; agents need internal means, i.e., a set of skills

Result-oriented Equal Opportunity: equal opportunity = equal results

Extreme version: unless we have equal group results in all significant life spheres, we have not achieved equal opportunity

Arguments for Equal Opportunity

Equal opportunity can be justified as producing efficiency (teleological)

We get the best-skilled people for various positions

Equal opportunity is justified by a notion of desert (deontological)

Equal opportunity enables people to develop their talents to the utmost

e.g., basic education if founded on the view that math, reading, and critical skills a re required for even a minimally adequate life

Equal opportunity promotes personal satisfaction

By allowing people to compete for prizes and places, society promotes individual fulfillment

Objections to Equal Opportunity

Nozick's Life is not a Race Objection

Equal opportunity prohibits capitalist acts between consenting adults (e.g., it’s my business if I want to hire a relative or friend instead of a more qualified stranger)

Marriage example: the most appealing men and women voluntarily marry each other; the least appealing men and women also voluntarily marry each other considering that the alternative of remaining unmarried is worse

Galston’s criticism: there are basic prerequisites (e.g., education, job training) to full participation in social competition, particularly when there are few opportunities for unskilled labor

Schaar's Communitarian Objection

Equal opportunity leads to decadence: “a society of well-fed, congenial, and sybaritc monkeys surrounded by gadgets and pleasure-toys”

Equal opportunity increases the gap between the elites and the ordinary folk: “Only those who genuinely are superior in the desired attributes will enjoy rich opportunities to develop their qualities. This would produce, within a few generations, a social system where the members of the elites really were immensely superior in ability and attainment to the masses”

Criticism: the elite rulers can direct society away from decadence

Equal opportunity misleads people: “What is so generous about telling a man he can go as far as his talents will take him when his talents are meager?”

Criticism: there are many kinds of races that people can run in, and in some races people will have talents

Bernard Williams: imagine a society run by a Warrior class; it is then overturned with equal opportunity; the privileged children of the Warrior class “having had the advantage of superior training conditions, still win.”

Criticism: level the playing field by providing extra educational or training opportunities to the less advantaged

Fishkin's Trilemma

Three ideals

Equality of life chances: the prospects of children for eventual social positions should not significantly vary with their arbitrary native characteristics

Merit: there should be widespread procedural fairness in the evaluation of qualifications for positions

The Autonomy of the family: parents have autonomy in raising their children, unless parents hamper them for adult participation in society

Fact: in reality people in unequal family conditions have unequal abilities

Problem: we can satisfy two, but not all three of these principles


Give up autonomy of the family, e.g., collectivized child rearing (e.g., Plato, Kibbutz); but most people find this unacceptable)

Give up merit based systems and adopt affirmative action; but this will result in mediocrity and inefficiency

Give up the notion of equal life chances; but this means that disadvantaged children will be penalized for their bad luck


Encourage family autonomy but supplement it with universal education

Implement affirmative action, but do so in early development, e.g., head start programs

Galson’s solution: separate meritocratic excellence from reward (e.g., let people compete to become brain surgeons, but don’t give them high incomes

Searle’s criticism: “Money attracts talent”




Introduction: The Circumstances of Justice

Three types of justice (not in Pojman):

Distributive justice: determining what is just or right with respect to the allocation of goods in a society

Procedural justice: concerned with the fairness of the process used to arrive at a decision

Compensatory justice: compensation for wrongs that have been done

The Classic Concept of Justice as Desert

Classic examples

Plato: “to each his due”

Karma: there is a law-like relationship between one’s deeds and one’s status in a future reincarnation

Roman law: “The principles of law are these: to live virtuously, not to harm others, to give his due to everyone

Desert and Merit

Merit: positive qualities that call forth positive response

Any feature or quality that is the basis for distributing positive attribution, such as praise, rewards, prizes, and grades.

Merit is a generic category (or superset) that contains desert

Desert (what one deserves): positive actions that call forth positive response

Connected to effort and intention

e.g., suppose there were humans with wings that could perform extraordinary tasks; they don’t deserve their wings, but do deserve merit for what they do with them

Entitlement: merit based on human law (positive rights)

e.g., even though I’m lazy


Distribution according to need should take place only in the ideal communist society, where all people are equally deserving

In a socialist society, the motto must be “from each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution”

Problems with the Classic Doctrine of Justice

Criteria problem: determining exactly what is the appropriate desert base – contribution, performance, effort, or compensation

Epistemological problem: measuring how much a person deserves (e.g., 100s of contributors to a building project, various people in a tug of war)

Metaphysical Problem: determining whether the concept is even coherent (actions are determined by forces beyond our control)

Rawls: “No one deserves his greater natural capacity nor merits a more favorable starting place in society”

Hampshire: “In the last analysis, are not all advantages and disadvantages distributed by natural causes, even when they are the effects of human agency?”


1. If we deserve anything, we must be the authors of our own selves (to have the kind of free will necessary to be responsible for our actions and achievements)

2. We are not the authors of our won selves

3. Thus we do not deserve anything

Classical liberalism (i.e., Libertarianism) and the justification of property

Locke’s labor account of property

1. I own my body and my labor

2. In laboring with nature, I mix my labor with the object

3. If the object is unowned, it becomes my property

Nozick’s criticism: it assumes that “ownership seeps over into the rest” (e.g., dumping a can of tomato juice into the sea doesn’t make it yours)

Once the property is yours, you may sell it or give it away, but you may not destroy it wantonly since you are stewards of the property that ultimately belongs to God


Rousseau: “The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought of saying, ‘This is mine,’ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society.”

Proudhon: property is theft

Marxism: advocates abolishing private property

Nozick’s entitlement theory of holdings (just acquisition and transfer)

Three principles:

A person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in acquisition is entitled to it

A person who acquires a holding in accordance with the principle of justice in transfer, from someone else entitled to the holding, is entitled to the holding.

No one is entitled to a holding except by (repeated) application of 1 and 2.

Principle of rectification of injustice in holdings: if a holding was acquired unjustly, justice requires that it be restored to the original owner

Patterned and nonpatterned schemes of distributive justice

Patterned: adheres to a formula of justice, “To each according to ____”

Nozick rejects this since it violates liberty

Nonpatterned (Nozick’s theory): no preordained formula of distribution; if it came about fairly, it’s yours

Nozick’s theory maximizes liberty, advocates laissez-faire capitalism, and sees taxation as forced labor

Voluntary charity

Nozick and other libertarians support voluntary charity to reduce the suffering of the poor and needy who may be victims of an unrestricted free market

Assurance problem: voluntary contributions work for big project only if everyone contributes; my personal contribution is low, so it is rational for me to withhold my contribution; but if others are thinking this way then the big project won’t get funded

Adam Smith’s three roles of government

Protect society from outside invasion (i.e., create and sustain the military)

Protect individuals from injustice or oppression through a system of justice (i.e., create and sustain the police)

Create and sustain public works that wouldn’t be in the interest of private individuals (e.g., NASA, public transportation)

Libertarians often neglect this third role

Problem of historical acquisitions: most property ownership came about unjustly through military invasion, plunder, violence, fraud; thus, based on Nozick’s principle of rectification of injustice in holding, such property should be returned

Rawl's Theory of Justice

Rawls’s theory is nonpatterned: it doesn’t reward based on any criterion (e.g., desert, need)

Veil of ignorance

Ignorant of one’s on place in society, class, gender, race, religion, generation, social status, natural abilities, intelligence

Ignorant of one’s thick theory of good: one’s conviction about what makes life worth living

Retains knowledge of a thin theory of good: knowledge of primary goods, e.g., liberties, opportunities, wealth, income,

Purpose: by denying individuals knowledge of their natural assets and social position, Rawls prevents them from exploiting their advantages

Binding force of our decisions under the veil of ignorance: “We should abide by these principles because we all would choose them under fair conditions”

Maximin principle: maximize (i.e. improve) the minimum (i.e., worst) position that one could fall into

Choose the arrangements “as though your enemy were to assign you a place in society”


Rational gamblers: We might gamble on a different arrangement (e.g., a utilitarian one) that might provide greater opportunity

Hare: modified utilitarian view that provides a welfare safety net for everyone, with no ceiling on personal income (Western European economic systems); this gives people an incentive for hard work

Two principles of justice: the principles which all parties would agree upon behind the veil of ignorance

First: each person will have an equal right to the most extensive basic liberties compatible with similar liberty for others.

Second: social and economic inequalities must satisfy two conditions:

(a) They are to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged (the difference principle)

(b) They are attached to positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity

The difference principle:

Ideal of fraternity: “not wanting to have greater advantages unless this is to the benefit of others who are less well off”

Two problems with strict equality

Equality at a subsistence level is undesireable, so we should encourage economic disparities if that enables the bottom to rise (a rising tide raises all ships)

Most people will work harder if they believe they will have a more affluent life as a result


Michael Sandel (communitarian): behind the veil of ignorance we lose our personal identity and are abstract people

Reply: Rawls is just setting up the same conditions of impartiality that we expect from umpires

Wallace Matson: Rawls confuses justice as fairness

A law may be unjust, but fair in that it is applied consistently (e.g., uniformly lowering everyone’s grade by one letter)

Problem of need: the maximin principle is based on the concept of need, and conceptions of basic needs changes from society to society

e.g., food, clothing, shelter, education, radio

Rawls underappreciates personal responsibility

Contractors behind the veil of ignorance would choose to award benefits and burdens according to desert






Introduction: The Classical Debate


State perfectionism (legal moralism): governments can have laws restricting private immoral behavior

Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas: The state should make people morally perfect (help citizens realize the good life and make them virtuous)

State neutrality: the state should neutral concerning particular theories of the good (and thus allow allegedly private immoral behavior)

Protectionism (Mill): the state should protect our liberties except when our conduct harms others (including allegedly private immoral behavior)

1950s British debate on homosexuality

Wolfenden Report: there exists a realm of private morality that is sacrosanct, so that the government may not intervene

Devlin: laws against immoral private behavior are necessary to protect the community from corruption and, eventually, dissolution

1. A community must have a set of rules, supported by tradition and adhered to by the majority of its people, in order to maintain social cohesion and harmony

2. Western society contains a tradition to which the vast majority subscribe, which includes the promotion of heterosexual relations but rejects homosexual relations as an approved form of sexual expression

3. Therefore, since we desire social cohesion and harmony, we ought to support the promotion of heterosexual relations but reject homosexual relations

Popper’s notion of state neutrality: the state should protect people from harm and let citizens work out their own visions of the good

Perfectionism is a kind of fascism, like Nazism

There are many kinds of good, and perfectionism falsely supposes that it has the only correct theory of how life should be lived

Arguments against Perfectionism

The argument from relativism: all moral principles are relative to culture, so we cannot impose our moral values on anyone

Criticism: there is at least a minimal core of morality that constitutes a conception of the good, which every society will need if it is to flourish

The argument from (Rawlsian) skepticism: behind the veil of ignorance, no one knows his or her conception of the good

e.g., behind the veil of ignorance, we might be gay but not know it

Criticism: we’d still know general theories of the good (similar to Rawls’s thin theories), even though we wouldn’t know our particular theories of the good (Rawls’s thick theories)

General theories: core morality, including integrity, fidelity, honor, benevolence, discipline, tolerance and non-malevolence

Particular theories: religious and ideological doctrines which are held by fail or aesthetic preference

The argument from tyranny

Popper: the criterion of morality is the interest of the state

Criticism: other theories of perfectionism are not totalitarianism (e.g., Aristotle and Aquinas argued that the state should serve the individual and promote virtue at all levels, excluding oppression)

Criticism (Michael Rosol): neutralism is no guarantee against oppression

The argument from autonomy

Wolf: perfectionism undermines autonomy

Criticism: autonomy is not a moral absolute, but may be overridden by other values (e.g., suicide intervention)

Moral vs. Legal Perfectionism

Moral perfectionism: the state has an obligation to make people morally better

Legal perfectionism: the state has an obligation to make people better by instituting laws imposing sanctions on immoral behavior

An outline of moderate perfectionism (Pojman’s theory)

Society non-coercively instills certain goods through education and special programs (e.g., national youth corps)

Two tiers of goods

First tier: health, love, friendship, education, development of talent, aesthetic enjoyment

Second tier: moral virtues that hold the first tier of good together

Fidelity, integrity, self-control, health

e.g., without fidelity and integrity, love dissipates and families are pulled apart




Introduction: The Nature and Value of Rights

Definition: a claim against others that at the same time includes a liberty on one’s own behalf

Part 1: your freedom to do

Part 2: protection from interference from others

Types of Rights and their Justification

Natural rights: rights we acquire by nature

Human rights: natural rights, or rights of humans, or moral rights

Moral rights: rights justified by a moral system

Positive rights: rights that society gives its members

Prima facie rights: fights that can be overridden by more compelling rights (e.g., smoker’s and nonsmoker’s rights)

Absolute rights: rights that cannot be overridden

Naturalist and nonnaturalist theories

1. Positive vs. natural rights

Positive rights (Bentham, Austin): all rights are created by institutions

Natural rights (Locke, Jefferson): rights grounded in natural law, which, in turn, are created by God

2. Contract-based ethical theories: rights are created in social contracts

Criticism (Dworkin): social contracts are hypothetical, and can’t generate real rights

Criticism: contracts are relative to agreements between contractors, and thus not universally valid

Criticism: nothing prevents me from breaking the contract if it doesn’t turn out the way I’d like

3. Duty-based (deontological) ethical theories: rights are implied by duties

e.g., your duty not to kill implies my right not to be killed

Criticism: some duties don’t imply rights (e.g., my duty to share my wealth with the needy does not imply your right to receive my wealth)

4. Goal-based theories: granting rights serves a goal (e.g., to maximize happiness or welfare)

All rights are prima facie, and none absolute, since one right can be overridden by another if it maximizes happiness

5 Ideals (Baier, Brandt): rights are claims and liberties included in an ideal moral system chosen an ideal observer who is omniscient, omnibenevolent and absolutely impartial

Rights that we should strive to realize (e.g., the right to paid vacation for all)

Criticism: depend on ideal conditions that may not be practicably realizable

Hohfeld’s Classification of Rights

Claim right: a claim against some person

e.g., the claim against you to pay me for the car I sold you

Liberty right: the liberty to perform some action

e.g., the liberty to park my car in a spot if no one else does first

Power right: the power to bring about some consequence

We have an ability or authority to do something

e.g., the power of a physician to treat patients and write prescriptions

Immunity right: an exemption from some consequence

e.g., immunity from criminal conviction; immunity from being tortured

A Critique of Rights Language

Feinberg’s view of rights (from previous section):

Rights are important since they give us a claim against others

Imagine a city, Nowheresville, where people didn’t have a conception of rights; what they’d lack would be a claim against others

Rights give us dignity insofar as we have a claim against others

Primacy of rights over duties (i.e., rights are foundational, and duties are derived from rights)

Criticism (Elizabeth Wolfgast): rights are impersonal

The language of rights is based on consumer relationships, which turns us into economic atoms rather than recognizing our relationships of trust with each other

e.g., a patient’s right to be free from malpractice vs. the patient’s need for a relationship of openness and care

Criticism of the primacy of rights over duties: some duties have no corresponding rights

1. Charity: I have a duty to donate to charity, but no one has a right to charity from me

2. Posterity problem: duties to future generations do not focus on identifiable people; rights typically require identifiable people as rights holders

3. Animals: some animals don’t have rights, but we still have duties towards them (e.g., the duty not to harm them)

(Similar to duties to environmental collections, which have no corresponding rights)





Definition of punishment: five points

Punishment is an evil: involves suffering

Punishment is for a violation of a rule: someone breaks a rule

Punishment is done to the offender: punish the guilty, not the innocent

Punishment is carried out by a personal agency: no natural forces, such as lightning

Punishment is imposed by an authority: recognized authorities, such as a government

Retributivism: punishment is based upon what one deserves, not upon any social benefit

Retributivism is backward-looking (what one did), not forward-looking (how to improve society)

Three elements of retributivism

Only the guilty may be punished

Everyone who is guilty should be punished

Punishment should be equal to the moral seriousness of the offense

Kant’s strict equality justification: by universalizing the maxim of his action, the offender wills a like action on himself

Strict equality of punishment (lex talionis): literal eye for an eye

Criticism: impractical to carry out, and impossible to know how much harm has been done

Herbert Morris’s fair play justification: the offender has disrupted social equilibrium of social cooperation, and punishment restores the equilibrium

The argument

1. In breaking a primary rule of society, a person obtains an unfair advantage over others

2. Unfair advantages ought to be redressed y society if possible

3. Punishment is a form of redressing the unfair advantage

4. Therefore, we ought to punish the offender for breaking the primary rule

Whereas Kant focuses on the gravity of the harm done, Morris focuses on the unfair advantage

Doesn’t require strict equality of punishment, only proportionality

Criticism: some criminal acts do not involve gaining an unfair advantage (e.g., sadistic acts which leave the criminal worse off than the victim, e.g., suicide bomber)


Revision to point 3 of the strict equality” justification:

Punishment should be proportionate to the moral seriousness of the offense (punishment fits the crime)

We rank the seriousness of crimes (e.g., murder, rape, theft, perjury), but it is difficult to give them absolute ratings

Justice is traditionally defined as giving to each is due, which is connected with punishment

Not based on hate or vengeance

Utilitarianism: punishment is justified by social utility

Utilitarianism is forward looking (how to improve society) not backward looking (what one did)

Key elements

Social utility is a necessary condition for judicial punishment (if you punish someone, it must serve social good)

Social utility is a sufficient condition for judicial punishment (if something is socially good, then it can be enforced through punishment)

The proper amount of punishment to e imposed on the offender is that amount which will do the most good

Only three grounds:

Prevention: prevent repetition


Reform: make the criminal a better person


By recognizing and rewarding merit, we promote efficiency and welfare

Utilitarian considerations can also be used to override merit


Justifies punishing people who are predisposed crimes, even before they do

Justifies killing innocent people

Reply: punishment is logically connected with a crime, so that the one punished must be presumed guilty

Rehabilitationism: criminals require rehabilitation, not punishment

Crime is a disease, and the criminal is a sick person who needs to be cured, not punished

Criticism: Mislocates the victim

e.g., psychiatrist says this to a mugging victim: “Oh, this is awful! Tell me, sir, who did this to you? He needs help.”

Criticism: rehabilitation doesn’t

There are limits to what socialization and medical treatment can do; socialization it works on infants, but not on older people

Criticism: even if it did work, such treatment raises questions about a person’s autonomy

Application to the death penalty

Retentionists: capital punishment is justified on retributive and utilitarian grounds

Abolitionists: capital punishment does not deter and is not necessary for retributive justice; judicial system is vulnerable to prejudice and error

Theoretical issue: is the death penalty ever morally justifiable

Practical issue: does the death penalty deter (the evidence is inconclusive)




Introduction: An Overview of Global Anarchy

Independent states are like individual people in the state of nature

Political realism: politics based on practical factors rather than on ethical objectives

Kill or be killed; might makes right; nice guys finish last

Brazen rule: do to others before they get a chance to do it to you

Machiavelli: rulers should do whatever they can to survive, including deception

Need for a global organization

To prevent genocide within countries

To regulate environmental problems

Multinational corporations erode national boundaries

Globalization through the internet and free market trade

The Cosmopolitan Spirit

Greek cynics and stoics saw themselves as cosmopolitan

Tolstoy: condemns patriotism as a superstitious and dangerous emotion; it falsely supposes that one’s nation is superior to all others

Maritan: nation states are dysfunctional and should be replaced with a world government that guarantees peace and justice (all rational human beings recognize a universal natural law)

Universally applies moral principles

The Promise of Nationalism

Argument for self-determination: people should be in charge of their own destinies and people should govern themselves locally as much as possible

Criticism: this supports autonomy (limited self-governance), not absolute self-determination; a world government could extend autonomy to ethnic groups

Argument from personal identity: identifying with a national group seems to give us something that we deeply need, i.e., a permanent and larger extended self, like our families

MacIntyre: we generate ethics from these group relationships (universal moral principles are too abstract to justify our obligations to family, community and nation)

Criticism: we discover morality through communal interaction, but this doesn’t undermine universal moral principles

In the U.S., all immigrants and ethnic groups can come to identify with the countries history and culture, and can commit to a common purpose

Argument from self-defense: we need to preserve and protect our culture and our people from harm and destruction

May be a necessary evil to protect a people against racism

e.g. Jewish race, culture and religion is best preserved through a Jewish nation-state

Criticism: racism could be driven underground or eliminated in a cosmopolitan system

Argument from multiculturalism; The world is a better or more interesting place if it contains diverse cultures

Criticism: this supports autonomy, not a nation-state

An Assessment of the Debate between Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism

Problem for nationalism: countries aren’t deserving of their boundaries or natural resources

In a world government, nations might be made stewards of their land and resources, but not permitted complete sovereignty over their uses

Problems for cosmopolitanism

1. What kind of institution would be needed to redistribute wealth?

2. How could we be sure that the redistributed wealth went to the poor? How can we compare what constitutes a good life in different kinds of societies?

3. It’s difficult to compare what constitutes the good life in different cultures

Interventionism: intervene in the affairs of national disputes

Even accepting the principles of national sovereignty, intervention may be justified

Two kinds of nationalism

Hard nationalism: the nation is altogether justified as the ultimate locus of political obligation; internationalism is imply confused or immoral

Soft nationalism: we have some obligations to people everywhere, there is still a need for a nation-state

Open to a world government but cautious to ensure local autonomy and cultural identity




Introduction: The Day of Ignominy (i.e., Sept. 11)

Lots of international terrorism in recent years

Hama Rules: Background Rules of Terrorism

Syrian ruler Hafez Assad leveled the town of Hama to eliminate a band of Muslim guerillas called “the brotherhood of Hama”

“A life for an eye, two lives for a tooth”

Clash of Cultures (religious motive Muslim terrorism)

Islamic fundamentalism against Western culture

Religion, not nationalism, may become the dominant threat to world peace and stability

The doctrine of jihad (holy war) may predispose Islam towards violence

A Definition of Terrorism

Terrorism employs horrific violence against unsuspecting civilizations, as well as combatants, to inspire fear and create panic, which in turn will advance the terrorists’ political or religious agenda.

Causes of Terrorism

Religious ideology, despair, sense of hopelessness rooted in oppression, ignorance, poverty, perceived injustice

Suicide bomber motivation

Peer pressure, religious sanctions, hierarchical command-obedience structure

Modern weaponry increases the damage

Mass communication give it widespread media coverage

A War on Terrorism

Possible solutions: root out the underlying causes of terrorism, i.e., poverty, ignorance, oppression, and injustice

Problem: ignorance is rooted in religious fanaticism

Terrorism and Just War Theory

Jus ad bellum: moral grounds for going into war

1. Declared by a legitimate authority

2. Declared for a just cause

3. Declared as a last resort

4. Declared with the intention of brining peace and holding respect for the enemy

Jus in bello: right conduct while engaged in a war

5. Proportionality: no more force than necessary to achieve the just goal (can’t justify pillage, rape, torture, nuclear war)

6. Discrimination: distinguish between combatants and noncombatants


It’s often unclear what a legitimate authority is (condition 1)

Utilitarianism might justify torture (condition 5)

Utilitarianism might justify attacking non-combatants or shooting civilian shields (condition 6)

The Moral Response to Terrorism

Short-term strategies

Make no concessions to terrorists and strike no deals

Bring terrorists to justice

Isolate and apply pressure on states that sponsor terrorism, forcing them to change their behavior

Bolster the counterterrorist capabilities of those countries that work with the United States and require assistance

Long-term strategies

National conscription in defense and civil service programs

Spreading the message of a universal morality with human rights

The cosmopolitan moral imperative: the possibility of world government