PHIL 370.001 – Authority, Freedom, and Rights: Advanced Political Philosophy

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Instructor: Robert Paul Wolff. This course meets TR 9:30 – 10:45 a.m. in CW 213.

The defining feature of the modern state is de facto legitimacy, the claim made by the state to have the right to issue laws and compel obedience to them. The most important argument supporting this claim to have been put forward in the last 350 years is the theory of the Social Contract. This course will be devoted to an in-depth examination of that theoretical justification for the authority of the state. The course will be divided into three roughly equal segments. In the first segment, we will look at two classic texts that set forth different versions of the theory of the social contract: John Locke’s Second Treatise C6oncerning Civil Government and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract. In the second segment, we will examine an extremely influential modern revision of the theory put forward by the famous American philosopher John Rawls in his book A Theory of Justice. In the third segment, we will examine a powerful racial and ideological critique of the tradition of the social contract by the important Jamaican philosopher Charles Mills, set out in his book The Racial Contract. Each segment will be concluded in an unusual manner to be revealed at the first meeting of the course.


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Prerequisite: 1 PHIL course.