University of Kansas, Spring 2004
Philosophy 555: Justice and Economic Systems

Justice and Economic Systems

Description: This course examines philosophical answers to the question of how the wealth, income, and other economic resources of a society ought to be distributed to its members. Should the resources of the rich be redistributed to improve the well-being of the poor? Should some people receive more than others because they need more (due to disability, expensive tastes, or other factors) in order to be as happy as others? Should everyone simply take home whatever he or she can earn in a free-market economy? Proposals such as these, along with others, are developed and debated in the readings for this course.

Class schedule: M, W, F, 12:30–1:20, in 2046 Haworth Hall


Here are the factors that will determine your overall grade, and their weights:

As you can see from the schedule (below), the course is divided into three main parts, each corresponding to a particular book. The test and paper requirements work like this: you will be required (1) both to take a test and to write a paper on the first part of the course, (2) either to take a test or to write a paper on the second part of the course, and (3) either to take a test or to write a paper on the third part of the course. (You get to choose which assignments to do for the second and third parts of the course, subject to the constraint that you end up taking two tests and writing two papers). The two tests and the final exam will mainly test your knowledge of what you’ve read, while the two papers will manifest your ability to articulate, and to present arguments for, your own views. Further information about these assignments will be provided as needed, as well as upon request.

Work will be graded in accordance with the university’s grading system, as stated in article 2, section 2 of the of the University Senate Rules and Regulations.

In addition, I should note here that I take academic misconduct, especially cheating on tests and plagiarizing papers, extremely seriously, and am generally disposed to impose the harshest permissible penalties when it occurs. To enable you to meet my expectations in this regard and to do so without fear of inadvertently falling short of them, I will provide clear and specific guidance as to what does and does not constitute academic misconduct in advance of tests and when papers are assigned. Meanwhile, you may consult article 2, section 6 of the University Senate Rules and Regulations for university policy in regard to this matter.

If you have a disability for which you may be requesting special services or accommodations for this course, be sure to contact Disability Resources (22 Strong Hall / 864-2620 (V/TTY)), if you have not already done so, and have that office send me a letter documenting the accommodations to which you are entitled. Please also see me privately, at your earliest convenience, so that I can be aware of your situation and can begin to prepare the appropriate accommodations in advance of receiving the letter from Disability Resources.

Finally, you should feel free to come by my office (3070 Wescoe Hall) at any time. I have office hours on Fridays from 1:30 to 2:20, but you are also welcome to stop by at other times, either with an appointment or without. I spend most of the work week in and around my office, so your chances of finding me should be reasonably high; and although in rare cases I may have to ask you to come back at another time, in general I will be happy to speak to you at your convenience.

Books to buy:
Course materials on the web:

Course documents, including this syllabus, will be available on the web site for the course, the URL of which is

(If you don’t want to type in this whole thing, you can stop after “be75”—at which point you’ll be at my personal web site—and then follow the links to the web site for this particular course.)

Class notes, paper assignments, information about tests, and other useful materials will be posted at this site. The syllabus is also one of the pages at the above site, and since it will probably be revised and elaborated as the course progresses, I encourage you to check it online from time to time, instead of relying on a hard copy.

One thing that will not be posted on the web site is your record of grades for this course, since I don’t know how to make a web page that will allow each student to view only his or her own grades. So, to allow you to have online access to your grades, I’ll be entering your grades into the “online gradebook” at the Blackboard site for this course (if you’re not already logged in, then log in here; once you get to the Blackboard site for the course, click on ‘Tools’, then ‘View Grades’). Note that although Blackboard provides a shell for all sorts of course-related documents, I am using it only to provide you with access to your grades; all course-related documents, such as this syllabus, notes, and assignments, will be at the site mentioned above.

E-mail distribution list:

I’ve had the KU computer folks set up an e-mail distribution list for the course, and its address is

I’ve asked that it be set up so that not only I, but also you, can use it, so that you can communicate with everyone in the class (including me) whenever you are so inclined.

In general, I’ll try to mention everything important (whether substantive or procedural) in class. But at times, I may use the e-mail distribution list to send you information that you will be responsible for having or acting on, so it is your responsibility to make sure that you read mail that I send to this list. You can do this by making sure that you (1) have an e-mail address, (2) are registered for the course (because this list is updated every night to reflect current enrollment, taking account of drops and adds), and (3) read your e-mail. There is one complication that you should be aware of: if you have both an Exchange e-mail address (e.g., and a non-Exchange e-mail address (e.g.,, and you prefer to receive e-mail at the latter address, then mail sent to the e-mail distribution list for the course will not necessarily go to it, even if you have registered it with KU as your primary e-mail address. (This is a minor glitch in the KU distribution-list system.) To deal with this problem, either check your Exchange account as often as your check your non-Exchange account, or arrange for mail sent to your Exchange account to be forwarded to your non-Exchange account. For more information on this problem and how to solve it, see the Exchange Distribution List Primer, question 2: “Some of the people on my list say they’re not getting my list mail. Why?”

Using J-Stor:

Some of the hyperlinks in the schedule below are to articles that are available electronically from the J-Stor online journal archive. J-Stor’s home page——can be accessed by anyone, but the contents of its archives cannot be legitimately accessed without a subscription. KU has a subscription, and you can use this subscription to access the J-Stor archive in either of two ways:

  1. While using a computer with a KU IP address (which I imagine would be any of the on-campus computers—e.g., in the computer labs, in the libraries, etc.), just click on the link for the article you’re interested in. It should appear with no problem.
  2. While using a non-KU computer, follow these steps:
    1. Go to
    2. Unless you are already logged into the KU libraries’ server, you will be confronted with a log-in screen. Log in with your KU username and password.
    3. When the J-Stor screen appears, use “Search” or “Browse” to find the article, based on the bibliographic information supplied below.

Once you have the article on the screen, you will probably want to print it. Look for the gray “PRINT” link at the top of the page you’re viewing, and click on it. You’ll then be given further instructions and links. In order to print J-Stor articles, the computer you’re using needs to have installed on it either (1) the Adobe Acrobat Reader (installed on most or all campus computers, and downloadable free from Adobe; see the link on my home page) or (2) J-Stor’s own printing application (details available with J-Stor’s instructions for printing; click on “Set your printing preferences” after clicking on the “PRINT” link).


January 23:

Part 1: Rawls

Rawls’s A Theory of Justice (first published in 1971) is arguably the most important work of political philosophy to have been published since the nineteenth century, and stands today as the dominant reference point in the field. In order to approach the book with some awareness of the elements of it that have proven to be most significant and influential, I encourage you to explore some secondary material on Rawls and his greatest book. In particular, I suggest the following:

  1. ’s web page at the philosophy department at Harvard University
  2. obituaries of Rawls in the Harvard Crimson and in the Washington Post (you might have to scroll down to see it). There were also obituaries in the New York Times [log-in required; then fee for accessing the archives], in the London Times [log-in required], and in many other newspapers and magazines.
  3. some excerpts of reviews of the book, provided by Harvard University Press
  4. Marshall Cohen’s review of A Theory of Justice from the July 16, 1972 edition of The New York Times (this is a PDF file)
  5. pp. 53–75 of chapter 3, “Liberal Equality,” in ’s (Oxford University Press, 2002). This is the best introductory overview of Rawls’s theory that I know of.

Week 1 (January 26–30):

Week 2 (February 2–6):

Week 3 (February 9–13):

Week 4 (February 16–20):

Week 5 (February 23–27):

Week 6 (March 1–5):

Part 2: Nozick

Although his Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) did not alter the philosophical landscape in the way that Rawls’s book had, its lively expression of libertarianism has remained the leading counter-point to Rawls’s liberalism. To supplement your reading of Nozick’s book, I suggest the following:

  1. Nozick’s obituary in the Harvard Gazette
  2. a tribute by Chicago law professor Richard Epstein
  3. pp. 102–127 of chapter 5, “Libertarianism,” in Will Kymlicka’s Contemporary Political Philosophy, 2nd ed. (for details of this book, see above, in the Rawls section)
  4. Nozick’s essay Why Do Intellectuals Oppose Capitalism?” (Although Nozick worked on many topics other than those of Anarchy, State, and Utopia after its publication, he returned to some of its main themes in this 1998 article.)
  5. this description of the scene from the second season of the Sopranos in which a character is reading Anarchy, State, and Utopia (see the second paragraph, in particular)

Week 7 (March 8–12):

Week 8 (March 15–19):

Week of March 22–26:

Week 9 (March 29–April 2):

Week 10 (April 5–9):

Interlude: Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America offers a vivid portrayal of the challenges facing many poor people in the United States. The concrete experiences Ehrenreich describes provide a useful supplement to the abstract theorizing of our other authors. You should know, however, that many people regard Ehrenreich’s book as biased and unfair. When it was selected as the book that all incoming freshman would read at the University of North Carolina in the summer of 2003, it met with organized opposition. The Committee for a Better Carolina placed an advertisement in the school newspaper (PDF) and an advertisement of the local newspaper of nearby Raleigh, N.C. (PDF), protesting the use of the book in UNC’s summer reading program. An article in the UNC school newspaper about the controversy can be found here.

Week 11 (April 12–16):

Part 3: Unger

Peter Unger’s 1996 Living High and Letting Die: Our Illusion of Innocence is a recent and ambitious (yet brief!) addition to the literature on distributive justice, offering a broadly utilitarian alternative to Rawls’s liberalism and Nozick’s libertarianism. Some background material:

  1. ’s web page at the philosophy department at New York University

Week 12 (April 19–23):

Week 13 (April 26–30):

Week 14 (May 3–7):

Week 15 (May 10–14):

Wednesday, May 19: final exam (10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.)

(see for KU’s final-exam schedule)