Philosophy 450: Seminar in Ethics, Political Philosophy and the Philosophy of Law

    * Professor: William Sweet
    * Office: 518 Nicholson Hall Tower
    * Telephone: 867-2341     E-mail:
    * Office Hours: 10 am - 12 pm, Tuesday; 3-5 pm, Monday and Wednesday, and by arrangement.
    * This class is scheduled to meet in the 'T' time block (Tuesday and Thursday at 3.45-5 pm)

This course will examine some fundamental issues in political philosophy and the philosophy of law. The specific issues to be studies may vary, but will be selected from such topics as the state and society, rights and duties, justice and equality, freedom and punishment, the moral basis of political obligation, and the concept of law. The course will include both classical and contemporary authors, but will focus on recent debates.

The theme for 2006-07 is 'Theories and practice in recent ethical and political thought'

Prerequisites: Senior standing in philosophy, political science, history, or sociology or, with the permission of the instructor, junior standing.

Course format: This is a 400 level course, and the format will be a combination of lecture, discussion, and seminar presentation.

Course Outline:
(this schedule is tentative and may be slightly revised with a week’s notice)
Week of Sept 4  1st class

Week of Sept 10 – review of ethical theory (egoism, deontology, utilitarianism) & basic political philosophy

Week of Sept 17 – natural law theory   

Week of Sept 24 – John Rawls

Week of Oct 1 – Jurgen Habermas (discourse ethics)

Week of Oct 8 - libertarianism

Week of Oct 15 - Richard Rorty ["Human Rights and Sentimentality"]; non-western critiques

Week of Oct 22 – feminist ethics [H.B. Holmes and the Universal Declaration]

Week of Oct 29 – Idealist ethics

Week of Nov 5 - communitarianism and virtue ethics [Alasdair MacIntyre, from After Virtue]

Week of Nov 12 – "Are there human rights?"

Week of Nov 19 – Right to one’s body

Week of Nov 26 – Parental Licensing

Second semester may include such topics as

Terrorism and security

Religion in Politics

Multiculturalism and pluralism

Cosmopolitanism and pluralism

Conditions for cross-cultural ethical dialogue

Civil society and the state

Method of evaluation:
Students will be required to prepare two short written assignments or in-class presentations (one per term), 1-page 'commentaries' on the readings (biweekly), and a 15-20 page research essay (due in the second term), and to write a mid-year and final examination.

    * Notes distributed in class; articles available online through Electronic Texts
       (check also here)

Method of Evaluation:

    * Short written assignments / class presentations (one per term) 20 %
    * 1 page commentaries (biweekly) 10 %
    * Christmas examination 20 %
    * Major essay (15-20 pages) 25 %
    * Final examination 25 %