Philosophy 290-1

Spring 2014

Number Title Instructor Days/time Room
290-1 Graduate Seminar: Political Rule Kolodny M 12-2 234 Moses

The political philosophy of this and the past century has tended to focus on the question: What ends should the state pursue? Formally, the answer is: the appropriate production and distribution of goods, construed broadly to include not simply material goods, but also security, liberty, opportunity. More substantive answers come when we specify which goods and how they are to be distributed. This tendency is manifest in the most celebrated work of 20th century political philosophy, John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice. That theory is, essentially, that the “basic structure” of society is just just when it distributes liberties equally and socioeconomic goods according to the “difference principle.” However, the roots of this tendency reach deeper into the utilitarian tradition, which answers the question, “What ends should the state pursue?” with “The greatest happiness for the greatest number.”

A different and earlier tradition, however, largely devoted itself to a different question. Whatever ends the state pursues, it pursues them by issuing commands to others that are in some sense “binding”: authoritative, or obligating, or enforceable, or coercive, or some such. Who, if anyone, has the “right” (the permission, or the normative power, or the exclusive claim) to issue such commands to whom? Who, if anyone, has the right to rule over whom? This is the central preoccupation of the debate between Sir Robert Filmer and John Locke, for example.

Now, perhaps this tradition is misguided. Perhaps, so long as the state is achieving the appropriate ends—which, recall, already includes an appropriate distribution of wealth, liberty, opportunity, and so forth among rulers and ruled—who rules whom, or whether anyone rules anyone, is a matter of indifference. Our question is whether this is the whole story. Supposing that otherwise the right ends are being achieved, is there any valid concern about the very fact that some rule over others? What, if anything, might the concern be, and what, if anything, might answer it?

We will approach these questions by asking two more familiar questions (albeit in reverse order): What, if anything, justifies the state? And what, if anything, justifies democracy, in particular?

The spine of the course, for better or worse, will be the instructor’s work in progress. But we will also read work of greater and more lasting value, by John Rawls, Joseph Raz, Ronald Dworkin, T.M. Scanlon, and Philip Pettit, among others.