Introduction to Political Theory: Justice and Equality

Course Description: 

The study of politics includes not only how the political world operates, but also how it ought to operate. The course focuses on John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice and some of the most important objections it has been presented with in the last thirty years. The course addresses some of these questions: what is a fair redistribution? How can taxation be justified? Is justice about giving people what they deserve? Is equality an important political value? Should people who are reluctant to take up employment be subsidised? How can political institutions be justified? Should politics promote community values? The goal of the course is to provide students with theoretical musculature to think further about politics.


  • To trigger an understanding of central arguments of contemporary political philosophy.
  • To foster the ability to analyse and discuss arguments in political philosophy.
  • To develop the ability to link and apply arguments of political philosophy to social and political issues.
  • To foster the ability to communicate both orally and in writing arguments in political philosophy.
  • To develop the capacity to learn new ideas and approaches, and to apply them in research.
Learning Outcomes: 

At the end of the course the student shall be able to:

  • Understand the main arguments for and against the basic principles of liberal egalitarian thought.
  • Understand the key positions within contemporary political philosophy.
  • Produce critical and well-structured arguments in political philosophy.
  • Balance and contrast the weakness and strengths of different positions in contemporary debates in liberal egalitarian thought.
  • Summarise arguments clearly and succinctly.



  • All students must read the core reading before the lectures and seminars.
  • Attendance is compulsory. You need at least 90% of attendance to get a grade.
  • There will be a mid-term exam, and a final 3,500 words paper. The paper’s title must be pre-approved, so consult me once you have an idea what you want to write about. You can use some of the seminar questions to formulate the title or any other related topic you are interested in

Grades will be awarded as follows:

  • Exam: 25%, participation 15%, presentation 20%, final paper 40%. Essays are due on the date they are due! Extensions will be granted only in special circumstances. Late submissions will get a -20% initial penalty, and a -10% daily penalty afterwards. Organise your time!
  • Academic dishonesty will be severely penalised. Don’t plagiarise!!

The essays must represent a significant piece of independent research; it can be a positive argument of your own, or a critical argument. They should provide succinct, clear statements of your positions and of arguments pro and con. Don’t make claims without arguing strongly for them! Also, when you criticise and argument, use the best counter-argument you find, don’t waste your time with straw men!

Finally, literary or emotive or heavily jargon-laden style is often unhelpful. Do not write a one-sided essay: be sure to evaluate the strongest arguments on both sides!

For more on how to write a philosophy paper check Doug’s Portmore’s ‘Tip on writing a philosophy paper’ at (also available at the e-learning site). See also James Pryor’s guide at