Spring 2021

Introduction to Political Philosophy: Justice, Freedom, and the State

Listed in: Philosophy, as PHIL-226


Rafeeq Hasan (Section 01)


States are made up of individuals. And yet states have powers that no individuals have. They collect taxes, put us in jail, draft us into the army, tell us what we can and cannot own, etc. In general, states compel us to do things in the name of the ‘common good,’ even when that good conflicts with what we would individually prefer to do. In this course, an introduction to key concepts in Western political philosophy, we seek to understand what, if anything, could justify states’ having this power over us. To this end, we examine two philosophical issues raised by the state. (1) The problem of political obligation. Is there any reason why we ought to obey the law? What are the grounds for legitimate civil disobedience? (2) The question of distributive justice. What reasons are there to tax the rich in order to give to the poor? What is the role of the state in securing economic equality?

Readings include: Plato, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Nozick, and Rawls. We will also think about the legacy of racism in modern political life. We will ask how this legacy should shape our attitude toward the state. Readings here include: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Tommie Shelby, and Shatema Threadcraft.

Limited to 18 students. Priority is given to Amherst College students. Spring semester. Professor Hasan.

If Overenrolled: Priority to majors, then on the basis of seniority and enrollment at Amherst.


Attention to Writing, Online Only


2022-23: Offered in Fall 2022
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2021, Fall 2022