Philosophy 235
Political Philosophy
Fall 2017

Click here for the syllabus.

Scroll to bottom for newest entry.  Please check this page frequently for announcements, additional reading assignments and videos, web links of interest, and so on.

To begin with, here are some sites you ought to get to know.  Our department web site includes this list of student research tools (with some amusements at the bottom). 

No course in political philosophy would be complete without this.

Weekly response prompt #1 - you'll recall the syllabus includes this item: "Weekly response: each week, with one or two exceptions, I will ask you to respond to some question or reflect on some problem.  You will reply via email not later than Sunday at noon.  Your reply need not be more than a paragraph, but must demonstrate critical reflection and real engagement with the material."  This one is due Sept. 18th, and remember it must come from your @bridgew email account.  Watch this short video on social cooperation - do you think that social cooperation can arise organically, or that, as Hobbes says, this is impossible?

Watch these short videos: More on the different senses of "value."  More on the football helmets example.  More on incentives and why they matter.  And now:
Weekly response prompt #2
-- Read this short parable by economist Russ Roberts.  Given the two senses of "rational" we discussed in class, explain how the woman at the opera who spoke to Prof. Roberts might be considered rational or irrational.  What sort of behavior is incentivized by the phenomenon Prof. Roberts describes?

Weekly response prompt #3 -- your thoughts on Prof. Skarbek's presentation

Weekly response prompt #4 -- In Kenya and Mozambique, you cannot own elephants, they are a protected national resource.  In Zimbabwe and Botswana, they actually allow legally recognized property rights in elephants.  What are your predictions for what this will do to the elephant populations in the different countries and why?

Bonus short videos on property rights: one here, another here

Bonus short videos on the "concentrated benefits/dispersed costs" problem: one here, another here.

Regarding the division of labor and the coordination of dispersed knowledge, see the following two videos  First is a video about a sandwich (this is a short version, but it contains links to longer versions), which is apparently another thing no one can really do, at least not without spending thousands of dollars.  Then, similarly, a video about someone trying to make a toaster from scratch.  These, like the essay "I, Pencil" in your book, demonstrate something not only about Smith's discussion of the division of labor, but also something about Hayek's point about dispersed knowledge.  Keeping those in mind, here's
Weekly response prompt #5
-- While we primarily think of markets as competitive, and we often hear these words together, Smith more often offers cooperation as the central feature of market exchange.  Can you explain why?

No weekly response this week; get started on your first paper assignment.
First paper assignment:  Even though this will be submitted electronically, the paper should be formatted as if for printing: 2-3 pages, double-spaced, in Times New Roman, 12-point, with 1-inch margins on all sides.  Do not submit incorrectly formatted papers.   Put your name, date, and "PHIL235" on the top right of page 1, and number the pages.  Use MS WORD, and submit electronically, as an attachment sent from your email account. This is due in my inbox NLT 9:00 am Thursday November 2
Topic: Revisit Weekly Response #1 in light of this week's readings and whatever you have said for Weekly Response #5.  Do you now have a different understanding of social cooperation as an organic phenomenon?  How do the readings from Smith, Hayek, and Read relate to your understanding of social cooperation?

Weekly response prompt #6 -- your thoughts on Dr. Davis' presentation

One way to think about Nozick's criticism of Rawls is the idea that Rawls' attempt to distinguish economic liberties from political or civil liberties is not satisfactory.  Here are two short videos on that theme:  One  Two
Let's now segue into chapter 8, which is on equality.  Read as much of chapter 8 as you can by Thursday.

Weekly response prompt #7 -- we looked at several perspectives on inequality the last 2 weeks.  Some room for economic inequality seems advantageous, but what should our response be to extreme levels of inequality?  As we saw, one response is redistribution: policies that transfer resources from the higher quintiles to the lower.  Two sorts of objections arose to that: one a rights-based objection that such redistribution, if non-consensual, violates rights; and the other a pragmatic objection about how certain redistributive mechanisms create disincentives to productivity, as illustrated in this short video.   The other response was to note that there are often structural barriers to economic advancement.  (More here.)  What are your thoughts on entrepreneurship and inequality?

Here are the videos we looked at on Thursday: Prof. Munger on rent-seeking (cross-reference with his essay in chapter 10) and  Prof. Thomas on the median voter theorem (cross-reference with essay by Downs in chapter 10).  Also: here's a short video that ties in to the last essay in chapter 10 on irrationality in voting behavior
Further reading on how regulatory capture is facilitated by voter ignorance.  Also: not only is there corn in Coke, but there's corn in gasoline also.
Here's a longer and well-sourced article about the licensure issue.

The Rosling videos: How Not to Be Ignorant About the World  The Magic Washing Machine  And here's the other one I mentioned but didn't show, on improvements in global health.  More good news here, about the cost of living (as younger Rosling noted, getting better not worse.)  Data for that video here.   So that brings us to a prompt for a weekly response (#8):  It seems as though trying to effect change through politics is fraught with distortions and leads to adverse results, yet at the same time people are living longer and healthier lives and becoming more prosperous, with the inequality shrinking and not growing.  (That's people in a global view; obviously there are still areas of desperate poverty.)  What do you think accounts for the "good news" if it isn't politics?

Majoritarian voting seems quite simple, but turns out to engender a variety of paradoxes, independently of Plato's three criticisms.  On Thursday we will see and discuss some of these videos on voting paradoxes.  Gray on "First Past the Post" voting, Prof. Thomas on the Condorcet Paradox, Prof. Munger on majority rule. Finally, from Nozick's book is this little parable: The Tale of the Slave.  So: Weekly Response #9--  Pick one of these three questions: Can rights coexist with democratic processes?  How can voting be effective?  What's your response to the question Nozick poses?
Update: to clarify, we will discuss ch. 12 on Thursday, and then devote remaining class time to ch. 13

FIRST: Weekly response #10 (last one!) - In chapter 13, we have spent a day on the price-gouging section already.  For this week's WR, send me your thoughts on your choice of one of the other four sections.  For that issue, what position seems to you to make the most sense, especially light of what you've learned this semester?  Due Sunday as usual.  We'll discuss as much as we have time for on Tuesday.
AND THEN: your second paper assignment: while there is no final exam, your second paper will be due in my inbox 10:00 AM, Monday Dec 18th.  As before, this should be emailed to me as a Word document (.doc or .docx) attached to an email from your account.  Format as if for print; double-space, 12-point Times New Roman font, 1-inch margins, page numbering on, your name, date, and "PHIL235" on the top right of page 1.  Again, approx 3 pages. 
Topic: you may choose one of the following two options:
1)    Expand your weekly response #7 on barriers to entrepreneurship, especially now that you've read chapter 10 and seen related videos on concentrated benefits/dispersed costs and rent-seeking.  What institutions will most effectively help people who aren't wealthy get more wealthy?  Does your answer scale up to global poverty, or is it US-specific?
2) Expand your weekly response #6 on racial inequality by incorporating insights from chapters 10 and 13.   

Bonus "Candice" sighting: on the "net neutrality" issue.  "these websites' stated goals are in direct contradiction of the regulations that they ostensibly support."