PHIL 531A 001 Political Philosophy - POLITICAL PHIL

PHIL 531A 001 Political Philosophy - POLITICAL PHIL

Dominic McIver Lopes
Office: Mondays 12h30–13h30 in Buchanan E367 

Political philosophy crafts theories of justice, theories of what it is for large scale social arrangements to be good. In general, large good scale social arrangements serve basic human interests. Among these are interests in community or culture. However, since at least the early nineteenth century, philosophers have disagreed about how basic human interests in culture should be accommodated within a theory of justice. This seminar is predicated on the conjecture that the disagreement is handicapped by a homogeneous conception of culture, which tends to be modelled on religious culture (actually, monotheist sectarianism) and which can be illiberal. Aesthetic culture provides an alternative model. Following an overview of recent aesthetic theory and some related  political issues, we examine the core debates between liberals and communitarians about culture and multiculturalism, before considering the outlines of theories of aesthetic justice and their implications for debates in political philosophy.


The seminar requirements are two very short (ten minute) presentations, a longer presentation, and three to five thousand words in writing (in anything from many short pieces to one long piece).

Short Presentations (20%) You will make two ten minute presentations to structure discussion of a reading. Your aim is to highlight the issues and their significance, articulate the main arguments, and raise objections or queries that get to the heart of the matter. Treat this like an APA commentary. You will get feedback from the instructor but the presentations are not graded.

Seminar Participation (10 %) Your goal is to make contributions to the seminar that are (1) regular, (2) pertinent, and (3) constructive. 10/10 for all three; 8/10 for any two, 6/10 for one.

Writing: Short Papers Option (70 %) Submit a total of three to four thousand words in the form of any reasonable number of smaller papers submitted throughout the term. Think of these papers as: partial literature reviews, conference-style comments, journal discussion pieces, blog entries, reports from the front for non-philosophers, lecture outlines, notes to self… be creative. 

Writing: Term Paper Option (70 %) Submit between three and five thousand words as a single term paper due at the end of term. Excellent term papers make original contributions of a kind that promise impact on the work of other scholars, they are situated in ongoing debates and bring out the motivations for positions in those debates, they charitably represent opposing considerations, they have impeccable logic, and they are written in a clear and vigorous prose with a supple and economical structure. 

Research Presentation If you are writing a term paper, you will make a twenty minute presentation of your seminar-related work in progress, using the presentation to stimulate a discussion that will yield material improvements to your written work for the seminar. This is mandatory for seminar members  exercising the term paper option, but the presentation is not graded.


September 4

Political Philosophy Meets Aesthetics (with a Crash Course in Aesthetics)

September 11

State Support for the Arts

Beardsley, Monroe C. Aesthetic Welfare, Journal of Aesthetic Education 4.4 (1970) 9–20 presented by Emily

Dworkin, Nagel, Nozick, Scanlon, and Wollheim. Public Support for the Arts, Columbia Journal of Art and the Law 9.208 (1985) 143–57, 162–71, 179–86, 236–9

September 18

Cultural Appropriation

Background: Matthes, Erich Hatala, The Ethics of Cultural Heritage, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Nguyen, Thi and Matthew Strohl. Cultural Appropriation and the Intimacy of Groups, Philosophical Studies 176.4 (2019) 981–1002 presented by Kelsey

Matthes, Erich, Cultural Appropriation and Oppression, Philosophical Studies 176.4 (2019) 1003–1013 presented by Kelsey

Rings, Michael. Aesthetic Cosmopolitanism and the Challenge of the Exotic, British Journal of Aesthetics 59.2 (2019) 161–78 presented by Jordan

September 25

Beauty Myths and Social Inequality

Background: James, Robin. Oppression, Privilege, and Aesthetics: The Use of the Aesthetic in Theories of Race, Gender, and Sexuality, and the Role of Race, Gender, and Sexuality in Philosophical Aesthetics, Philosophy Compass 8.2 (2013) 101–16 

Archer, Alfred and Lauren Ware. Beyond the Call of Beauty: Everyday Aesthetic Demands under Patriarchy, Monist 101 (2018) 114–127 presented by Emily

Taylor, Paul C. Black Is Beautiful: A Philosophy of Black Aesthetics. Wiley–Blackwell, 2016, ch. 1  

Widdows, Heather. Perfect Me: Beauty as an Ethical Ideal. Princeton UP, 2018, pp. 253–62 presented by Kristi

October 2

Community and Culture

Mason, Andrew. Community, Solidarity and Belonging: Levels of Community and Their Normative Significance. Cambridge University Press, 2000, chs 1 and 2 

Scheffler, Samuel, The Normativity of Tradition, Equality and Tradition. Oxford University Press, 2010 

October 9

Liberalism vs Communitarianism

Kant, Immanuel. An Answer to the Question, What Is Enlightenment? Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings, ed. Pauline Kleingeld, trans. David L. Colclasure. Yale University Press, 2009, pp. 17-23

Mill, J. S. On Liberty, ch. 2 presented by Gail

Sandel, Michael. Liberalism and the Limits ofJustice, 2nd ed. Cambridge University Press, 1998, ch. 1 and pp. 168–74

October 16

Liberalism vs Communitarianism

Taylor, Charles. The Politics of Recognition, Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, ed. Amy Gutmann. Princeton University Press, 1994, pp. 25–73 presented by Gail

Kymlicka, Will. Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights. Oxford University Press, 1996, ch. 5

October 23

Liberal Multiculturalism

Margalit, Avishai and Moshe Habertal. Liberalism and the Right to Culture. Social Research 61.3 (1994) 491-510

Raz, Joseph. Multiculturalism: A Liberal Perspective, Ethics in the Public Domain: Essays in the Morality of Law and Politics. Oxford University Press, 1995  presented by Isha

Scheffler, Samuel. Immigration and the Significance of Culture, Philosophy & Public Affairs 35.2 (2007) 93-125 presented by Isha

October 30

Equal Recognition

Patten, Alan. Equal Recognition: The Moral Foundations of Minority Rights. Princeton University Press, 2014, chs 3-5

November 6

Cosmopolitan Aesthetics

Presentation by Lopes

November 13 TBA
November 20 TBA
November 27 TBA


Course Summary:

Date Details