Unit Director and Lecturer: Christopher Bertram

Seminar tutor: Naomi Goulder


The course runs during the first semester. Lectures take place on Mondays at 2pm in LT1, 43 Woodland Road. Seminars take place at times to be announced.


You can contact the lecturer or the seminar tutor by email.  Alternatively, come along to their office hours. (Office hours will be advertised at the beginning of the semester.)   Please make sure to check your email account and the unit pages at blackboard regularly for announcements regarding this course.

Credit and Assessment:

PHIL 20012 carries 20 credits. In order to obtain the credit you must:( i) attend the weekly seminars; (ii) deliver at least one satisfactory presentation in a seminar; (iii) submit 2 essays (of not more than 2,500 words) by the deadlines of 12 November (12.00 hours) & 16 December 2010 (12.00 hours) ; and (iv) pass (or make a fair attempt at passing) an examination in the summer term.

The summative assessment for this course is by examination only. Coursework (two essays and a presentation at a seminar) is also assessed, for formative and diagnostic purposes, with feedback provided by the seminar instructor.

Teaching Methods:

This course is taught by a combination of lectures and seminars. Each student receives one weekly lecture and a seminar. The lectures provide the background information and guide through the main arguments and positions. The seminars are intended to allow students to raise questions, make comments, and generally contribute to discussions.

Essay Topics:

  1. Would morally perfect people need government?
  2. Can autonomous individuals accept the authority states claim for themselves?
  3. What sort of liberty should we value?
  4. Is the idea of private property in a state of nature coherent?
  5. Do we, in the real world, have reason to accept the principles of justice that the parties in Rawls's original position would choose?
  6. What is the difference principle? Is it too egalitarian, not egalitarian enough or just about right?
  7. Is there a right to a democratic say?
  8. Do laws need to be justifiable to those subject to them?
  9. Does conservatism express an attractive ideal?
  10. Should just individuals in an unjust society try to realise, in their personal lives ideals of justice that the state is failing to pursue?

Basic reading:

Two recent textbooks, either of which would be a sound investment are, Jonathan Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy and Jean Hampton, Political Philosophy. Another recent book worth considering is Adam Swift, Political Philosophy: A Beginner's Guide for Students and Politicians. Many important recent articles are collected in Robert E. Goodin and Philip Pettit (eds) Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Anthology  . The most important modern text is John Rawls, A Theory of Justice(Princeton and Oxford, 1971).


Items included in the COURSEPACK are essential reading for a topic. However, you are unlikely to be able to get good marks by simply restricting yourself to the essential items. So you need to read some of the additional material: ideally before the seminar but certainly before the exam. If you can’t find anything on the reading list (because everything has gone from the library) then use your initiative and read some thing else on the topic or ask for suggestions. Handouts, together with other materials such as videos, texts, etc. will be available from the Blackboard site for the unit. If I see something relevant to a week's topic, I may well upload it at some time after the lecture/seminar, so please check from time to time (and especially once revising!).

Lecture 1: Why have a state anyway?

Essential reading

Gregory Kavka, "Why Even Morally Perfect People Would Need Government", in the COURSEPACK, originally in Social Philosophy and Policy 12:1 (1995).

Additional reading

Michael Taylor, Community, Anarchy and Liberty, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982, chs 1-2.
David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book III, part 2, esp. §§ 1–2.
David Schmidtz, The Limits of Goverment, Boulder: Westview, 1991. ch.1 (and the rest of the book).
Christopher W. Morris, An Essay on the Modern State, Cambridge: CUP, 1998. chs 1-2.
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, chs 13-21.
Ellen Clarke, "Anarchy, socialism and a Darwinian left", Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 2006 vol. 37 (1) pp. 136-150.

Lecture 2: The meaning of liberty

Essential reading

Isaiah Berlin, "Two Concepts of Liberty", in the COURSEPACK.

Additional reading

David Miller (ed.), The Liberty Reader essays by MacCallum, Steiner, Charles Taylor, Cohen, Pettit and Skinner especially. This volume is an expanded edition of an earlier collection edited by Miller under the title Liberty, so look for that as well. Alternatively, the followings:
Gerald MacCallum, "Negative and Positive Freedom", Philosophical Review, 76 (1967), pp. 312-34.
Hillel Steiner, "Individual Liberty", Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 75 (1974-5), pp. 33-50.
Charles Taylor, "What's Wrong with Negative Liberty", in A. Ryan (ed.), The Idea of Freedom, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.
Quentian Skinner, "A Third Concept of Liberty", Proceedings of the British Academy, 117 (2002), no. 237, pp. 237-68.
G.A.Cohen, "Freedom and Money" (available via the Blackboard site).

Lecture 3: Should we obey the state?

Essential reading

R. P. Wolff, In Defence of Anarchism. New York: Harper, 1970. ch. 1, in the COURSEPACK.

Additional reading

Joseph Raz, "Authority and Justification", Philosophy and Public Affairs14:1 (Winter 1985) pp. 3-29, also in Joseph Raz ed., Authority.
Christopher McMahon, "Autonomy and Authority", Philosophy and Public Affairs16:4 (Fall 1987) pp. 303-328.
A. John Simmons, Moral Principles and Political Obligations. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979.
Christopher McMahon, Authority and DemocracyPrinceton: Princeton University Press, 1994. chs 2 and 4
A. John Simmons, "Associative Political Obligations";, Ethics, January 1996.

Lecture 4: Rights and property

Essential reading

Robert Nozick, "An Entitlement Theory", originally from his Anarchy, State and Utopia New York: Basic Books, 1974 in the COURSEPACK.
Allan Gibbard, "Natural Property Rights" originally Nous 10:1, pp. 77-86, in the COURSEPACK.

Additional reading

Hillel Steiner, An Essay on Rights, Oxford: Blackwell, 1994. ch 7.
G. A. Cohen, ‘Self-Ownership, World-Ownership and Equality’, in F.Lucash ed.Justice and Equality Here and Now. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1986.
G.A.Cohen, Self Ownership, Freedom and Equality Cambridge: CUP, 1995. (contains the item above and much else).
Arthur Ripstein, Force and Freedom: Kant's Legal and Political Philosophy, ch. 6.

Lecture 5: Rawls’s Theory of Justice (1) The Original Position

Essential reading

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Oxford: OUP, 1971. extracts in the COURSEPACK.

Additional reading

The major secondary work on Rawls's Theory of Justice is now Samuel Freeman's Rawls.London: Routledge, 2007.
Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously, London: Duckworth, 1977, ch. 6
Samuel Freeman, "Introduction", in Samuel Freeman (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Rawls.Cambridge: CUP, 2003.
Jon Mandle, What's Left of Liberalism, New York: Lexington, 2000. chs 2 and 3.
See also the WikiPedia entry on Rawls (and links therefrom), and my own Rawls glossary.

Lecture 6: Rawls’s Theory of Justice (2) The Difference Principle

Essential reading

* John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, extracts in the COURSEPACK.

Additional reading

Philippe Van Parijs, "Difference Principles", in Samuel Freeman ed. The Cambridge Companion to Rawls.
Brian Barry, Theories of Justice, Brighton: Harvester, 1991, ch 6 and Appendix C.
G.A. Cohen, "Where the Action Is";, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 1997.
G. A. Cohen, ‘The Pareto Argument for Inequality’, Social Philosophy and Policy, 1995.
(Both of these are included in his Rescuing Justice and Equality, Cambridge Mass.: Harvard, 2008.) Christopher Bertram, ‘Principles of Distributive Justice, Counterfactuals and History’, Journal of Political PhilosophyI, 3 (1993).
John Harsanyi, "Can the Maximin Principle Serve as a Basis for Morality",American Political Science Review, (69) (1975),pp. 594-606.

Lecture 7: Justifying Democracy

Essential reading

Thomas Christiano, 'An Argument for Democratic Equality', in the COURSEPACK. originally in his The Rule of the Many, Boulder: Westview, 1996.
Richard Arneson, "The Supposed Right to a Democratic Say", in the COURSEPACK, originally in Christiano and Christman eds., Contemporary Debates in Political Philosophy, Oxford: Blackwell, 2009.

Additional reading

Brian Barry, 'Is Democracy Special?', in B. Barry (ed.) Democracy, Power and Justice. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.
Michael Walzer, 'Philosophy and Democracy', in Thomas Christiano (ed.), Philosophy and Democracy. Oxford: OUP, 2003.
Richard Arneson, 'Democratic Rights at the National Level', in Thomas Christiano (ed.), Philosophy and Democracy.

Lecture 8: Liberalism

Essential reading

Jeremy Waldron, "Theoretical Foundations of Liberalism", in the COURSEPACK - originally in the Philosophical Quarterly,37 (1987).

Additional reading

Ronald Dworkin, "Liberalism", in Stuart Hampshire (ed.) Public and Private Morality Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978. Also in Michael Sandel (ed.) Liberalism and its Critics, Oxford: Blackwell, 1984. Gerald F. Gaus, "The Moral Foundations of Liberal Neutrality", in Christiano and Christman eds., Contemporary Debates in Political Philosophy. John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysicalin Philosophy and Public Affairs 14, no, 3 (1985) and in Milton Fisk ed. Justice.
in the Philosophical Quarterly,37 (1987).
Jean Hampton, ‘The Moral Commitments of Liberalism’, in Copp, Roemer and Hampton (eds) The Idea of Democracy.

Lecture 9: Conservatism

Essential reading

Michael Oakeshott, "On Being a Conservative", in the COURSEPACK, and in his Rationalism in Politics and other essays.London: Methuen, 1962.
G.A. Cohen, "A Truth in Conservatism", in the COURSEPACK.

Additional reading

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France.
Roger Scruton, The Meaning of Conservatism, Basingstoke: Penguin Books, 1980.

Lecture 10: Justice and personal behaviour

Essential reading

G.A. Cohen, "If you're an egalitarian, how come you're so rich?", in the COURSEPACK, Originally in his If You're an Egalitarian How Come You're So Rich? Cambridge Mass.: Harvard, 2000.

Additional reading

Harry Brighouse, Justice, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004, ch.8
Liam Murphy, "Institutions and the Demands of Justice", Philosophy and Public Affairs 27 (1999).
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, "It's not my fault", in W. Sinnott-Armstrong and Richard Howarth eds. Perspectives on Climate Change Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2005 and in Stephen M. Gardiner et al, Climate Ethics Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.