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PHILOS 2G03 Soc.&Polit. Issues

Academic Year: Spring/Summer 2015

Term: 2

Day/Evening: E

Instructor: Prof. Kyle Johannsen

Email: NULL

Office: University Hall 314

Phone: 905-525-9140 x

Office Hours: Monday, 2:30 – 4:30 PM

Course Objectives:

Teaching Assistant: Maggie O’Brien


Lecture Time:           Monday and Wednesday, 5:00 – 8:00 PM

Lecture Location:     Burke Science Building (BSB), Room 106

Inequality in the distribution of wealth is a pervasive reality.  Even the most socialist European countries permit a significant gap between the rich and the poor, and the size of that gap is considerably larger in countries such as the United States.  What’s more, when we shift our gaze to the global context, we see a huge inequality in the average standard of living between those living above the equator and those living below it.  Are these inequalities unjust?  If so, why are they unjust?  In this course, we will conduct a philosophical investigation of distributive inequality.  Though a brief period of time will be devoted to the empirical reality of inequalities in North America and elsewhere, most of our time will be spent discussing egalitarian theories of distributive justice and some prominent responses to them.  Topics to be covered include John Rawls’s theory of justice, luck egalitarianism, and the extent to which contemporary theories to justice are capable of guiding political practice.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

PHILOS 2G03 Spring/Summer 2015 Coursepack

The course readings are comprised of a collection of articles and book excerpts.  Most of these are contained in a coursepack that’s available in the Campus Store.  All other readings are available online via the course’s Avenue to Learn page.  Lecture slides and assignment instructions will also be posted on Avenue to Learn as we progress.   

Method of Assessment:

Students will be graded on the basis of the following:

-Participation: 10%.  Participation will be assessed on the basis of attendance at lecture.  Attendance will be taken before the second half of every lecture. 

-Critical essay (3-4 double spaced pages, i.e., 900-1200 words): 20%.  To be submitted at the beginning of class on July 6th.

-Term paper (5-6 double spaced pages, i.e., 1500-1800 words): 35%.  To be submitted at the beginning of class on July 29th.    

-Exam: 35%.  To be written in class on August 5th. 

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

This is a self-reporting tool for undergraduate students to report absences DUE TO MINOR MEDICAL SITUATIONS that last up to 5 days and provides the ability to request accommodation for any missed academic work. Please note, this tool cannot be used during any final examination period. You may submit a maximum of 1 Academic Work Missed request per term. It is YOUR responsibility to follow up with your Instructor immediately (NORMALLY WITHIN TWO WORKING DAYS) regarding the nature of the accommodation. If you are absent for reasons other than medical reasons, for more than 5 days, or exceed 1 request per term, you MUST visit your Associate Dean's Office/Faculty Office). You may be required to provide supporting documentation. This form should be filled out immediately when you are about to return to class after your absence.

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

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 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 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:

Week 1:                                              June 22nd - Introduction

                                                            No readings

                                                            June 24th – Inequality and Egalitarian Theory


                                                            -Are TBA but will be available via Avenue to Learn.


                                                            -Friday June 26th is the last day students may enrol in the course


Week 2:                                              June 29th (Monday) – Justice as Fairness Part 1  


                                                            -Excerpts from John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice   


                                                            -Wednesday July 1st is Canada Day.  No classes will be held at McMaster that day.


Week 3:                                              July 6th – Justice as Fairness Part 2


                                                            -Excerpts from John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice

                                                            -Excerpt from Will Kymlicka’s Contemporary Political Philosophy

                                                 Critical essay due at the beginning of class on July 6th




                                                            July 8th - Does equality matter?


                                                            -Excerpt from Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia

                                                            -Harry G. Frankfurt’s “Equality as a Moral Ideal” 


Week 4:                                              July 13th – Luck Egalitarianism Part 1: Equality of Resources


                                                            -Excerpt from Ronald Dworkin’s “What is Equality Part 2”

                                                            -Excerpt from Will Kymlicka’s Contemporary Political Philosophy


                                                            July 15th – Luck Egalitarianism Part 2: Equal                                                             Opportunity for Welfare and Equal Access to Advantage


                                                            -Excerpt from Richard Arneson’s “Equality and Equal Opportunity for Welfare”

                                                            -Excerpt from G.A. Cohen’s “On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice”


Week 5:                                              July 20th – Luck Egalitarianism Part 3: Classic Criticisms


                                                            -Jonathan Wolff’s “Fairness, Respect, and the Egalitarian Ethos”

                                                            -Excerpt from Elizabeth Anderson’s “What is the Point of Equality?”


                                                            July 22nd – Theory and Practice Part 1: Are Contemporary Egalitarians too   Utopian?


                                                            -Colin Farrelly’s “Justice in Ideal Theory: A Refutation”

                                                            -Amartya Sen’s “What Do We Want from a Theory of Justice?”


                                                            -Wednesday July 22nd is the last day students may withdraw from the course without receiving a failing grade from the registrar


Week 6:                                              July 29th (Wednesday) - Theory and Practice 2: Defending Utopian Theory


                                                            -Adam Swift’s “The Value of Philosophy in Nonideal Circumstances”


                                                            -A short exam review lecture will be given during the second half of class on July 29th

                                                            -I will be attending a conference in Washington on Monday July 27th.  That day’s

                                                             lecture is cancelled. 


                                                          Term paper due at the beginning of class on July 29th


Week 7:                                              August 5th (Wednesday) - Final Exam


                                                            -Monday August 3rd is a civic holiday.  No classes will be held at McMaster.

Other Course Information:


Assignments are to be submitted in hardcopy format at the beginning of class.  Late assignments should be submitted to the instructor by e-mail.  Assignments must be double spaced with normal margin sizes (2.54 centimetres on all sides) and written in 12 point Times New Roman font.  Make sure to number all pages in the footer and to include your full name, student number, and the course code in the header.  Don’t bother including a title page. 

Late Penalties

In the absence of an extension, late assignments will be given a part grade penalty for each day past the deadline, e.g., a B+ paper handed in one day late would become a B paper, a B- paper handed in two days late would become a C paper, etc.  This applies both to business days to days on weekends. 

Questions and E-Mails

or the most part, questions about the course’s subject matter should be asked in lecture or during office hours.  Administrative and personal questions can, however, be sent to the instructor by e-mail and will generally be replied to within 24 hours.