Have a Question? Contact the Humanities Office or an Academic Unit

PHILOS 3N03 PoliticalPhilos.

Academic Year: Winter 2017

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Violetta Igneski

Email: igneski@mcmaster.ca

Office: University Hall 308

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23462


Office Hours: Tuesday 3:00-4:00 pm and by appointment

Course Objectives:

Course Description

This course is a study in the central issues in contemporary political philosophy.  We will focus on the main debates within liberal theory, particularly on justice and equality. 

We will spend time examining the following questions: What would a just society look like?  What is the appropriate role of the state in shaping our institutions and ensuring that they are just?  To what extent is it legitimate to coerce individuals and limit their freedom?  What responsibility do individuals have?   Most people agree that all persons should be treated as equals, but what follows theoretically and practically from this commitment?

We will begin by reading John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice.   Rawls is one of the most influential political philosophers of our time and most contemporary political philosophers engage with his theory (even if it is to show why it is wrong).  We will then consider objections and replies to his views including utilitarianism, libertarianism, communitarianism, liberal egalitarianism, feminism, and multiculturalism.

Course Objectives

By the end of this course students will have met the following objectives:

  1. Be familiar with Rawls’s theory of justice;
  2. Be aware of the main criticisms made against Rawls’s theory;
  3. Understand several different philosophical accounts of equality, liberty and justice;
  4. Have grappled with and understood difficult texts in contemporary political philosophy;
  5. Have strengthened their analytical and critical skills through practice in writing and orally communicating their views;
  6. Learned to clearly articulate their own views and to support them with arguments;
  7. Appreciate the complexity of the philosophical issues in contemporary political philosophy.

Course Format

We will be meeting once a week.  There will be a two hour lecture followed by a one hour discussion.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

1.  John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, (Harvard University Press, 1971).

2.  Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction, 2nd Edition

 (Oxford, 2002).

3.  Additional articles can be found online and through the McMaster Libraries database.


Method of Assessment:

Course Requirements

Students are required to do assigned readings, attend class and participate in class discussion.  In addition, there will be a test, an essay (including a draft that will be evaluated by a peer in the class) and a final exam.  You are required to check Avenue to Learn for updates and changes and are encouraged to participate on the A2L discussion list.


  1. Date: February 13
  2. Value: 20%

Essay  (and peer evaluation of first draft)

  1. Length: 2000-2500 words
  2. First Draft Due: March 20
  3. Peer Evaluation Due: March 27
  4. Final Paper Due: April 3
  5. Value: 5% for first draft and peer evaluation, 35% for final draft (total 40%)

Attendance and Participation

  1. Participation can take several forms including contributing to class discussion and posting to A2L discussion list.
  2. Value: 5% for attendance and 5% for participation for a total of 10%

Final Exam

  1. Date: TBA on exam schedule
  2. Value: 30%

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Part of the university experience is learning how to prioritize and juggle all your assignments—inevitably they will all be due around the same date.  Extensions will only be granted for special circumstances beyond the student’s control, in which case supporting documentation will be required.  Apart from emergency situations, extensions must be negotiated before the deadline.

Late papers.  Your assignment is considered late if it is not uploaded to Avenue to Learn before midnight on the day it is due.  Late papers will be penalized 5% per day.

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at mcmaster.ca/msaf/. If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail sas@mcmaster.ca. For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Schedule of Readings (note: any changes will be announced in class) 

Week One: January 9

Main themes and introductions

Week Two: January 16

John Rawls, “Classical Utilitarianism” Ch. 1: 5 from A Theory of Justice, 22-27.

Will Kymlicka, “Utilitarianism,” 10-52.

Week Three: January 23

Rawls, from Theory of Justice

  • Chapter 1: 1-4, 9.

Week Four: January 30

  • Rawls, from Theory of Justice

  • Chapter 2: 10-17.

Week Five: February 6

Rawls, from Theory of Justice

  • Chapter 3: 20-30.

Week Six: February 13-- Mid-term test

Rawls, from Theory of Justice

  • Chapter 4: 33-35, 39-40

Week Seven: February 20--Mid-term Recess

  • No class

Week Eight: February 27

Chapter Kymlicka, “Liberal Equality,” 53-101.

Week Nine: March 6

Elizabeth Anderson, “What is the Point of Equality?”, Ethics 109, 2 (January 1999): 287-337.

Philippe Van Parijs, “Why Surfers Should be Fed: The Liberal Case for an Unconditional Basic

 Income”, Philosophy and Public Affairs 20, 2 (Spring 1991): 101-131.

Week Ten: March 13

Kymlicka, “Libertarianism,” 102-165.

Nozick “Distributive Justice”, [selection from Anarchy, State and Utopia] (Recommended reading.)

Week Eleven: March 20—bring first draft of essay to class

Kymlicka, “Communitarianism,” 208-283

Week Twelve: March 27—return your partner’s paper and peer evaluation

Kymlicka, “Multiculturalism,” 327-376

Week Thirteen: April 3—final draft due

Kymlicka, “Feminism,” 377-430.

Other Course Information:

 Regulations and Policies

Submission of assignments.Assignments are to be submitted on Avenue to Learn.  They are due before midnight on the due date.  Please retain a copy of all assignments and notes.  Paper copies of essays may be requested. 

Turnitin.com.  Essays submitted on Avenue will be checked automatically by Turnitin.com to reveal plagiarism, and will automatically be added to the Turnitin database. If you do not wish to have your essays added to the Turnitin database, send it to me electronically as an e-mail attachment. No penalty will be assigned if you submit your assignment this way. All submitted work is subject to normal verification that standards of academic integrity have been upheld (e.g., on-line search). To see the Turnitin.com policy, click here <http://www.mcmaster.ca/academicintegrity/> .

Course Changes. The instructor and the University reserve the right to modify elements of the course during the term.  The university may change the dates and deadlines for any or all courses in extreme circumstances.  If either type of modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes.  It is the responsibility of the student to check their McMaster email and course websites weekly during the term and to note any changes.

Classroom environment.  We will spend a significant amount of class time discussing and debating issues.  This is an important part of the learning experience.  Some of you will feel more comfortable than others speaking; do your part to foster an open and comfortable environment for all.  I expect that you will treat everyone in the class with respect.