PHIL 364.001 – Ethics and Economics

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Instructor: John Lawless. This course meets MWF 11:00 – 11:50 a.m. in CW 103.

In this course, we’ll philosophically engage with concepts that lie along the seams of economics, ethics, and political thought: concepts like labor, property, freedom, contract, and value. What is labor, and how does it earn for us property rights in material goods? What sorts of property rights do we have? Are they best respected in a free market environment, or do they allow (or even require) a redistributive state? What is the relationship between our freedom to use our property as we like—our economic freedom—and our political freedom to involve ourselves in the state’s decision-making processes? Under what conditions are contracts exploitative, and what ought to be done to protect vulnerable persons from such exploitation? What is value, and how do we best identify what is valuable?

Starting at an abstract level, we’ll draw on the work of historically influential thinkers (in particular, John Locke, Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, and Karl Marx) work to develop the theoretical frameworks with which to make sense of and begin to address concrete and pressing issues facing us today. We’ll look at cases in which courts have decided to strike down exploitative contracts, at arguments in favor of raising minimum wage laws, at critiques of persistent racial, religious, and gender inequalities in the job market, and at ways in which the market shapes us as individuals and as a society.

Recommended preparation: at least one course in ethics (PHIL 160, 163, or 170) or one course in economics.

John Lawless’s webpage