POL S 401 A: Advanced Seminar in Political Theory

Meeting Time: 
TTh 2:30pm - 4:20pm
SIG 230
Joint Sections: 
POL S 511 A, LSJ 490 C
Jamie Mayerfeld

Syllabus Description:

Advanced Seminar in Political Theory
"Theories of Justice"
Pol S 401/511/LSJ 490
University of Washington, Winter 2019

**PDF readings**

**First Essay Assignment**

**Second Essay Assignment**

Instructor: Professor Jamie Mayerfeld                                   Class:
Office: Gowen 35                                                                     Sieg 230
Office Hours: Wed. 1:30-3:00, Fri. 11:00-12:00                   TTh 2:30-4:20

Overview: In this course we will study leading contemporary theories of justice. Our main topics are economic justice, climate change, and immigration. Among the questions we consider: What is justice, and how can we know? What political, legal, and economic institutions define a just society? Which is more persuasive, an egalitarian or libertarian conception of justice? Is there a right to private property, and if so, how is it best understood? What is racial injustice, and how is it best understood? Should injustice be understood in terms of oppression rather than maldistribution? What does justice require in response to the problem of climate change? What explains humanity's failure to face up to climate change, and who do we address this problem? Does ecological finitude overturn liberal assumptions about justice? What defines a just immigration policy? Is there a human right to migrate across international borders? On what moral grounds, if any, may nation states exclude would-be immigrants?


A.  You are expected to complete the readings on time and come prepared to discuss them in class.  The texts are challenging, but also rewarding.  You will get the most out of them though careful, critical reading (and re-reading). 

B.  Discussion is an essential part of this course.  Part of your grade will be based on the quality of your contributions to class discussion.  Shy students must make an effort to speak up.  Talkative students may need, in some instances, to practice restraint.  I am looking for regular, thoughtful class participation, informed by knowledge of the assigned readings.  If conversation flags, I may institute pop quizzes or obligatory response papers.

C.  Each student will give a presentation, roughly 8-10 minutes long, on the assigned reading.  The presentation should analyze and critically engage the  argument (or an important part of the argument). Your presentation will be based on a 3-4 page paper, which you are required to submit on the date of your presentation.  Presentations will be evaluated on the basis of accuracy, clarity, organization, and independent and intelligent engagement with the author’s ideas.

Your presentation should not be a mere summary, but instead an original argument relating to the reading.  Your argument may be interpretive (offering an illuminating understanding of the argument in the reading) or evaluative (offering a positive or critical assessment of the argument).  Or it may apply the argument to some issue or question not raised in the text.  Whatever type of presentation you choose, please articulate a clear position and defend it with relevant reasons and evidence.

D. Two essays, 5-7 pages long, will be assigned.  You will be presented with a challenging question, intended to give you an opportunity for in-depth reflection on the texts and the questions they pose. Essays will be graded according to accuracy, clarity, and level of critical thought.  The first essay will be assigned on Thursday, January 24, and is due on Friday, February 8.  The second essay will be assigned on Tuesday, February 26, and is due on Wednesday, March 20.  Students will present rough drafts of their second essays in the final two sessions.

You may, if you wish, incorporate your class presentation into one of your essays.  Please note that essays will be held to a somewhat higher standard of rigor, completeness, and polish than presentations – though these criteria will also inform evaluation of the presentations.

Texts:  Readings are drawn from five books, on sale at the University Book Store, and a series of articles posted on the course website or accessible online.  The three books are:

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (rev. edition) (1971/1999)
Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974/2013)
Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference (1990/2011)
Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, The Collapse of Western Civilization (2014)
Joseph Carens, The Ethics of Immigration (2013)


Presentation: 25%
First essay: 37.5%
Second essay: 37.5%
** Final grade will be adjusted based on the quality of seminar participation.

Maintaining a Respectful Learning Environment:  This course will lead us into discussion of controversial social and political topics.  It is important for discussion be open to a wide range of perspectives and for everyone to feel comfortable about participating.  Learning will be facilitated if all class participants work to engage in class discussions with respect and empathy for one another.  Contradictory views are encouraged, and can contribute to learning as long as everyone remains open to new information and willing to learn from people with different perspectives and life experiences.  It is essential to avoid inflammatory, derogatory and insulting words and personal attacks. Such conduct inhibits learning and prevents the free exchange of ideas.

Disability and Learning: Your experience in this class is important, and the instructors are committed to maintaining an inclusive and accessible learning environment. If you experience barriers based on disability, please seek a meeting with Disability Resources for Student (DRS) to discuss and address your concerns. If you have established accommodations with DRS, please communicate your approved accommodation to the relevant instructor(s) at your earliest convenience so we can accommodate your needs. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. You can contact DRS at uwdrs@uw.edu, 011 Mary Gates Hall, 543-8924 (voice); 543-8925 (TDD). http://depts.washington.edu/uwdrs/.

Academic Integrity:  Cheating and plagiarism are offenses against academic integrity and are subject to disciplinary action by the University.  Plagiarism is copying someone else’s work and presenting it as your own (by not attributing it to its true source).  If you are uncertain what constitutes plagiarism, please ask me. The Political Science/JSIS/LSJ/CHID Writing Center also offers guidance on plagiarism: http://depts.washington.edu/pswrite/forstudents.html


This schedule is subject to revision.
A star (*) means the reading is posted on the website or available online.


Tue. Jan. 8: John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, pp. 3-24; optional: 47-52

Thu. Jan. 10: Rawls, A Theory of Justice, pp. 52-56, 266-67, 57-58, 62-65, 73-93

Tue. Jan. 15: Rawls, A Theory of Justice, pp. 109-12, 118-35, 176-90; *Martin O’Neill and Thad Williamson, “Beyond the Welfare State: Rawls’s Radical Vision for a Better America,” Boston Review, October 24, 2012, http://bostonreview.net/archives/BR37.6/martin_oneill_thad_williamson_rawls_property_owning_democracy_american_politics.php

Thu. Jan. 17: Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Preface (pp. xix-xxiv) and pp. 3-35, 42-45, 48-53

Tue. Jan. 22: Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pp. 149-64, 167-82

Thu. Jan. 24: *Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” The Atlantic, June 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/

Tue. Jan. 29: Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference, Introduction and chapters 1-2

Thu. Jan. 31: Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference, chapter 3


Tue. Feb. 5: *Jonathan Watts, “We Have 12 Years To Limit Climate Change, Warns UN,” The Guardian, October 8, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/global-warming-must-not-exceed-15c-warns-landmark-un-report; Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, The Collapse of Western Civilization (entire)

Thu. Feb. 7: *Bill McKibben, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” Rolling Stone, July 19, 2012, https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719; *Chris Hayes, “The New Abolitionism,” The Nation, April 22, 2014, https://www.thenation.com/article/new-abolitionism/; *Stephen Gardiner, “A Perfect Moral Storm: Climate Change, Intergenerational Ethics and the Problem of Moral Corruption,” Environmental Values 15 (2006): 397-413

**Fri. Feb. 8: First essay due in the main office of the Political Science Department, Gowen 101 by 4:30 p.m.

Tue. Feb. 12: *Elisabeth Ellis, “Democracy as Constraint and Possibility for Environmental Action,” in The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Political Theory, ed. Teena Gabrielson, Cheryl Hall, John M. Meyer, and David Schlosberg (2016)

Thu. Feb. 14: *Henry Shue, "Human Rights, Climate Change, and the Trillionth Ton,” in The Ethics of Global Climate Change, ed. Denis G. Arnold (2011).

Tue. Feb. 19: *Karen Litfin, “Towards an Integral Perspective on World Politics: Secularism, Sovereignty and the Challenge of Global Ecology,” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 32 (2003): 29-56 

Thu. Feb. 21: *Karen Litfin, “Ecovillages: Bridges to Integral Community?” in The Variety of Integral Ecologies, ed. Sam Mickey, Sean Kelly, and Adam Robbert (2017).


Tue. Feb. 26: *Michael Walzer, “Membership,” chap. 2 of Walzer, Spheres of Justice (1983)

Thu. Feb. 28: Joseph Carens, The Ethics of Immigration, Introduction, pages 92-96 (in chapter 5), chapters 7-8; Optional: *Carol M. Swaine, Response to Joseph Carens, Boston Review forum, May 2009, http://bostonreview.net/forum/case-amnesty/apply-compassion-offered-illegal-immigrants-most-vulnerable-citizens-carol-swain

Tue. March 5: Carens, The Ethics of Immigration, chapters 9-10

Thu. March 7: Carens, The Ethics of Immigration, chapters 11-13

Tue. March 12 : Presentation of second essay drafts

Thu. March 14: Presentation of second essay drafts, cont.

**Second essay is due on Wednesday, March 20, by 4:30 pm, in the main office of the Political Science Department, Gowen 101.

Catalog Description: 
Topics can include, but are not limited to, analytical theory pertaining to justice, exploitation, and freedom; revolution and social changes; collective choice and action; sexuality and politics; critical theory; Marxist theory; post-structuralism. Content varies.
Department Requirements: 
Political Theory Field
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:08pm