Political Philosophy

Course Description:

The official description of this course says that we will focus on “The nature of the state, and of the institutions and practices of which it is comprised; the basis and scope of political obligation, the proper role of political activity; considerations of concepts of sovereignty, legitimacy, limits of state power, representation, and the like.” We will be examining these topics through close analyses of the views provided by three major contemporary theorists: Rawls, MacIntyre, and Young.

Required Materials:

A Theory of Justice, by John Rawls

After Virtue, third edition, by Alasdair MacIntyre

Justice and the Politics of Difference, by Iris Marion Young

…and selected readings, available through Canvas

Grade Elements:

Throughout this course, there will be 12 assignments total: 11 exercises due throughout the term and a final paper.

The exercises go up in value throughout the term. The first is worth 5 points, the last several are worth 20 points. Please see the section of Canvas entitled “Assignments” for the instructions, point values, and due dates for each individual exercise. Each exercise has different instructions, so it is vital that you check this section of Canvas regularly. I will also regularly provide more information about completing the assignments during class before it is due. The sum of all the exercises is 155 points.

The final paper is worth 100 points. It will be due 5:00 pm on June 9th.

The last element that will determine your grade is attendance. Good-faith attendance is mandatory. Over the course of the term, I will excuse two absences. Any absences beyond those two will result in 10 points (or roughly 5%) being removed from your final score, unless you complete a make-up assignment. The make-up assignment will require you to engage thoughtfully with the material that you missed. Make-up assignments are designed on a case-by-case basis. It is your responsibility to keep track of your attendance and to contact me if you are in need of a make-up assignment.


The exercises are intended to grow more difficult throughout the term, though their growing difficulty is meant to match your growing skills. Each exercise requires close and careful attention to the texts, as you will be expected to locate portions of arguments within the text and then analyze them. You will be graded on your ability to do this, as required by the exercise’s instructions.

Students who have completed similar exercises in a previous class with me and received an A average on those exercises may opt for a more challenging set of assignments.

I will only provide limited commentary on any individual exercise, though students are encouraged to see me during my office hours for any clarification. I will also allow for you to argue for a reconsideration of the grade given on any particular exercise: if you believe that your answer to a particular exercise deserves a higher grade than I have given, you may request reconsideration in the form of a written essay.  This written essay must be clear and detailed, providing a convincing argument in favor of a higher grade. However, no reconsideration plea will be considered unless you have spoken to me about your assignment during my office hours beforehand.

The final paper is your opportunity to analyze and critique the material covered in class. You will be graded on 1) your ability to express the theories and arguments under consideration and 2) your ability to construct and support an argument for a thesis. It is expected that you can write in a well-structured and grammatically-correct style.  More information will be provided later. Grades given on the final paper are final.

There will be no options for extra credit.


            This term, participation and attendance will be managed through the card system, which I have stolen from my colleague, Prof. Ned Markosian. The main purpose of the card system is to ensure that every student has an equal chance to be called on during classroom discussions, and also to prevent discussions from being dominated by a small handful of students.

At the beginning of class, each student will be provided two cards with their names on them. One card is red, the other is green. When you choose to participate in class discussion, you will hold up one card. If you are called on, you will relinquish that card. In calling on students, red cards are given priority over green cards. If you run out of cards but still wish to contribute, you may raise your hand, though any card is given priority over a raised hand.

Quick clarificatory questions (such as “Can you scroll back up for a second?” or “Can you repeat that?”) may be asked without sacrificing a card. For a clarificatory question, raise your hand with your index finger extended.

Before class each day, one student will be responsible for handing out cards to every student in attendance. At the end of class each day, students will return whatever cards they have left to me. Please do not destroy or harm your cards!

Late Policy:

All work must be turned in by the due dates listed in Canvas. Late work will be accepted, but a late penalty will apply.  If you turn an assignment in late on the due date, your score will be lowered by 5%.  If you turn an assignment in late the day after the due date, your score will be lowered by 10%. Each additional day lowers your grade by another 10%, up to 50%. Under unusual circumstances, students may be permitted to redo an assignment or complete an alternative. What constitutes “unusual” circumstances is left to my discretion. If you believe your circumstances may be unusual, see me during my office hours.

In case of emergency, documented in the form of an official leave of absence from either the health center or the Student Life Office, students are allowed to turn work in late without penalty.

Electronic Communication:

I encourage students to contact me!  You are more than welcome to e-mail me with any questions, problems, or comments related to the course.  Usually, I am quick to reply, but please allow me 48 hours to respond.  If I do not respond within 48 hours, assume I did not receive your e-mail. Just send it again. When you e-mail me, please include your full name and the name of the course.  Any e-mail I send to the class will be sent through Canvas, so make sure your account is appropriately set up to receive such e-mails.

Class Conduct:

Laptops and tablets (but not smartphones) are permitted during class, provided they are used in ways that help your participation in the course. If I suspect for any reason that you are using electronic equipment in a distracting or inappropriate way, you will lose the privilege of using that equipment during class time.

This is a class in which your ability to succeed is directly related to your level of participation. You are expected to complete the assigned readings before class and to participate in discussion while in class.

Academic Dishonesty:

Academic dishonesty is a serious infraction and it is dealt with severely. Possible consequences include permanent dismissal. It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty—see appendix D of the university catalog: http://catalog.wwu.edu/content.php?catoid=5&navoid=463.

This syllabus is subject to change at my discretion.