Philosophy 451: Seminar in Ethics, Political Philosophy and the Philosophy of Law - I

Professor: William Sweet 
Office: 707 Nicholson Tower
Telephone: 867-2341 
Office Hours: M 1.00-3.30; Tu 10-11; F 9.15-11 and by arrangement
Course web page:

This class meets in the TT time block (T and TH: 3.45-5.00).

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 2012 is 'Human Rights and Culture'

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 3 - 1st class / review of ethical theory / the concepts of human rights and culture

Weeks of Sept 10 and 17 – Hobbesian and Lockean views of rights; idealist views of rights (Bosanquet)

Week of Sept 24 – Maritain; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Weeks of Oct 1 and 8 – Contemporary liberal theories of rights (Rawls, MacIntyre, and Gewirth)

Week of Oct 15 – Human Rights in Hinduism and Buddhism

Week of Oct 22 – Human Rights in East Asian Thought

Week of Oct 29 – Human Rights in Islam

Week of Nov 5 – Dignity and the Right to one’s Body

Weeks of Nov 12 and 19 – Rights, Identity, and the Importance of Culture (Rawls, Taylor, and Habermas)

Week of Nov 26 – Other issues / Conclusions

Method of evaluation:

Students will be required to prepare

* a class presentation 30% ; * 1-page commentaries (biweekly) 10%; * Class discussion / notes  10%; * a major essay (15-20 pages) 50 %

The following books must be purchased:

Intercultural Dialogue and Human Rights, Edited by Luigi Bonanate, Roberto Papini. William Sweet (Washington, DC: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2011).


Modern Political Thought from Hobbes to Maritain, Edited by William Sweet (Washington, DC: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2012).


Required Readings: (copies or electronic access will be provided)

William Sweet, “Human Rights,” in Government and Politics, ed. Masashi Sekiguchi, Oxford, UK: EOLSS Publishers, 2007, Volume 2, pp. 95-126.

John Rawls, “The Idea of an Overlapping Consensus,” Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Spring, 1987), pp. 1-25

Thomas Christiano, “Two Conceptions of the Dignity of Persons,” Jahrbuch für Recht und Ethik, 16 (2008): 101-126.

J. Habermas, “The Concept of Human Dignity and the Realistic Utopia of Human Rights,” Metaphilosophy, 41 (2010): 464-480.

Loane Skene, “Arguments against People Legally ‘Owning’ their own Bodies”

Charles Taylor, “The Politics of Recognition,” Access through the Internet:

J. Habermas “Multiculturalism and the Liberal State” Access through StFX library at: URL:


Additional Readings / Readings for Essays:

Michael Ignatieff, The Rights Revolution

Margret Vidar, “The Right to Food”

Richard Rorty, "Human Rights and Sentimentality”

Hugh Lafollette, “Licensing Parents”

Jurgen Habermas, “Religion in the Public Sphere”

Richard Rorty: "Human Rights and Sentimentality"

Vinay Lal: "The Imperialism of Human Rights"

Helen Holmes: "A Feminist Analysis of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights"

Alasdair MacIntyre: excerpts from After Virtue