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Political and legal institutions are built on foundational, philosophical ideas--ideas about freedom, equality, justice, and happiness. In this course, we will explore those ideas, taking the institutions around us not as fixed and unquestionable, but as things to evaluate and, if necessary, to change.
Module One: Why should we have a State? Happiness
Many have suggested that the role of the State is to promote peace, stability, and human flourishing—in short, to bring about various kinds of good consequences. We’ll consider some questions about this kind of view. Should we use an objective measure of happiness or utility, or a subjective measure, based on what people think is good for them or makes them happy? What is the relationship between happiness and economic activity? How can States promote happiness or individual welfare? What should the State’s role be in structuring economic activity? In solving ‘collective action’ problems? Are States good at promoting domestic and international peace? If one role for the State is to prevent people from harming each other, how should we define harm? How does concern about happiness and flourishing differ if there is disagreement within the political community about what is worthwhile?
Module Two: Why should we have a State? Justice
One role offered for the State is in helping to bring about justice. What does justice require? Is justice about matching merit and effort with reward? About making sure the good prosper and the bad suffer? About making sure that all have enough before some have a lot? What role does or should the State play in all of this?
Module Three: Political Community—Should our State have borders?
What is the appropriate size and basis of political community? Should we be in a political community together because we share a geographic region, a religion, a cultural tradition, a set of values, a planet? Should we be allowed to change or to choose what political community we are a part of? If so, how easily? Should we have open borders? What is the value of political community? What is the relationship between community and autonomy? Who should have a say in how the community is governed?
Module Four: Crime and Punishment—Should our State have prisons?
What should happen to people who break the law? Should we punish people? How? Why? How much? What do a practices of punishment reveal about our moral views of people? Are those views plausible? Problematic? Should we be troubled if a disproportionate number of people who are punished are of a certain race, economic class, or mental health status? What is the point of putting people in prison? What are alternatives to incarceration?
- Alexander Guerrero - Philosophy and Medical Ethics and Health Policy
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