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Cohen, Joshua, 17.01J Justice, Spring 2006. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 09 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA


Spring 2006


Course Description

This course explores three fundamental questions about the ideal of a just society and the place of values of liberty and equality in such a society:

  1. Which liberties must a just society protect? Liberty of expression? Religious freedom? Sexual liberty? Economic liberty? Political liberty?

  2. What sorts of equality should a just society ensure? Equality of opportunity? Of economic outcome? Political equality? Equality for different religious and cultural groups?

  3. Can a society ensure both liberty and equality? Or are these warring political values?

We will approach these questions by examining answers to them provided by three contemporary theories of justice: Utilitarianism, Libertarianism, and Egalitarian Liberalism. To assess the strengths and weaknesses of these theories, we will discuss their implications for some topics of ongoing moral-political controversy - including the enforcement of sexual morality, protecting religious liberty, financing schools and elections, regulating labor markets, assuring access to health care, affirmative action, abortion - that exemplify our three fundamental questions about liberty and equality. We conclude with some issues of global justice.


This course is a HASS-D and Communication Intensive (CI) subject, with both written and oral communication requirements.

  1. To meet the writing requirement, you must write three papers, each 6-8 pages (roughly 2000 words). The first two papers are due on 2 days after Lec #7 and Lec #15. You must also rewrite these first two papers. You will get them back one week after you hand them in, and must submit your rewrite one week later (2 days after Lec #11 and Lec #18). On the third paper, a rewrite is recommended, but optional. If you plan to do it, you must arrange the timing with your TA. In either case, the final version is due on Lec #26. Policies on late papers and on additional rewrites beyond those mandated by the requirements will be set by your TA.

    When you rewrite, you need to take into account the comments on the first version, and the evaluation of the rewrite will depend in part on your success in addressing the comments. So if you get a B+ on the first draft, and rewrite without being responsive to the comments, you may end up with a B- or C on the revision.

    The paper topics and some Rules of Thumb for writing papers are available in the assignments section. Note that the paper topics often present a series of questions that you need to address. Your paper needs to be responsive to these questions. Be sure to review the Rules - including the comments on plagiarism - before writing the first paper.

  2. The course also has an oral communication requirement. To meet this requirement, you must attend the recitations regularly, and participate constructively in discussion. You cannot substitute additional written work in place of this requirement.


    Your final grade will be calculated as follows:

    Papers 75%
    Recitation Contribution 25%

    The papers count for 75% of the final grade. Your grade on each of the first two papers will be a weighted combination of the grades on the original and the rewrite, with the rewrite counting twice as much as the original.

    The other 25% of the grade will be based on your contributions in recitation. Unexcused absences from recitation will count against the grade. And if you miss more than three recitation sections, you cannot pass the course. Your TA will give you a mid-semester, preliminary grade on your contribution to discussion.

    The TA's will grade your papers. Should you have any question about the fairness of a grade, bring the matter to my attention right away. It is especially important in this course that students not be penalized - or even think they are being penalized - for the content of their views.


    You can get an Incomplete only if you have completed two papers, including the rewrites. These conditions are necessary, not sufficient, for an incomplete. I will decide requests for Incompletes on their merits. I want to underscore that you must request an incomplete, and that requests are to come to me, not to the TAs. Students who do not hand in all the work and do not request an Incomplete will receive an F.


    1 Problems of Justice in a Democratic Society  
    I. Utilitarianism
    2 Hedonistic Utilitarianism  
    3 The Enforcement of Morals  
    4 A New Account of the Human Good  
    5 The Benefits of Freedom  
    6 Free Exercise and Religious Accommodations  
    II. Libertarianism
    7-8 The Minimal State and Possessive Libertarianism Paper 1: First version due 2 days after Lec #7
    9 Liberty and Labor Market Regulation  
    10 Liberty and the Rule of Law  
    11-12 Choice-Based Libertarianism Paper 1: Rewrite due 2 days after Lec #11
    13 Equal Opportunity and Education  
    III. Egalitarian Liberalism
    14-15 Equality and Personal Responsibility Paper 2: First version due on Lec #15
    16 The Problem of Health Insurance  
    17 Equality and Affirmative Action  
    18-20 Reconciling Liberty and Equality Paper 2: Rewrite due on Lec #18
    21 Even More Egalitarian?  
    22 Political Equality and Campaign Finance  
    IV. Four Topics
    23 Justice at Life's Inception  
    24 Multiculturalism, Group Rights, and Gender Equality  
    25 Human Rights  
    26 Rights and Emergencies Paper 3 due   Tell A Friend