There are no prerequisites for this course except a desire to learn and understand. In particular, no previous formal study in politics, philosophy or political economy is required. What is assumed is that students will have an interest in developing their thinking about the ethical and political commitments that might inform social and economic policy-making.
We explore a variety of attempts to reconcile the existence of widespread economic inequality with the widespread acceptance of the notion that humans beings have equal social, political and legal status. If it can be so reconciled, how much inequality should be allowed (or encouraged)? On the other hand, if these purported justifications of inequality are rejected, what are we committing to in proclaiming egalitarian principles?
o Who should get what? How can, or should, distribution (of what?) be justified?
o Goods? Welfare? Something else?
o Mainstream economics: marginal productivity
o Welfare economics (Pareto principle)
o Rawls and Nozick
o Sen's 'capability' approach
o Egalitarianism (equality of what? Of who?)
o Human Development Index (etc.)
o Generational justice
What students should be able to do by the end of the course?
Students will be able to describe at least two different conceptions of distributive justice, give a reasoned evaluation of their respective merits, and discuss their implications for public policy.
Students will deepen their understanding of equality and inequality in modern society, and be able to assess particular social arrangements and policies in terms of their effects on both individual and social well-being, and any trade-offs between these two criteria.
Each session will combine lecture material with student discussion. Typically the class will start with the lecturer explaining the issues in question and describing some ways in which scholars have addressed them, followed by a student-led exploration of material from the previous and current session.
Active note-taking is a proven way of deepening ones grasp of learning activities, so appropriate equipment, either electronic or paper-based is strongly recommended.
Students will get the maximum value from the course if they are able to if they are able to read ahead to inform contributions to class discussion. Thus a reading list will be provided to both support in-class work and for further reading following the end of the course. The readings for the class sessions will be available via the Moodle page for the course
Furhter courses in economics, politics, philosophy, history, psychology at the Mary Ward Centre or elsewhere
For most of recorded history contemporary thinkers have regarded the idea of human equality as either nonsensical, undesirable or impossible. But by the middle of the 19th century Marx could assert that this notion had 'already acquired the fixity of a popular prejudice'. Notwithstanding this claim, it is clear that inequality in the distribution of society's benefits not only persists but has recently been growing. Indeed, some would argue that without some measure of inequality society would have no drive towards innovation and economic growth. This course interrogates the meaning of this 'popular prejudice' and examines what considerations of principle or expediency might justify either equality or inequality.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022 sent shockwaves throughout a world still ravaged by the pandemic. More than a year on, the horrors of war still dominate the front pages of news around the world. A climate of fear and uncertainty dominates world politics as we are constantly reminded of the fear of escalation between major world powers, rising death tolls, human rights concerns and what the outcome of this conflict might mean for global peace and stability. Despite this global attention, there remains a large gulf between opposing camps on how this war is viewed - leading to contrasting and competing national policies. This course aims to explore how the histories of these countries resulted in open conflict, its development since 2014, and a close examination of the motives and intentions of opposing blocs in this war. This course aims to explore and comprehend contrasting views and to what extent they are coloured by historical fact, national security, and political objectives.
China has changed in scarcely three decades from a poor and overwhelmingly agricultural country to what may already be the largest industrial economy in the world, with the geopolitical significance that that entails. To Western observers this is liable to seem like a sudden rise from backwardness and obscurity. But China's citizens have a different perspective: that their country is on the brink of recovering a status that it held for millenia - that of the world's most technically and culturally sophisticated society, only eclipsed for a few brief centuries following Europe's industrial revolution. But how should these events be explained? To do this we will look at the variety of ways in which economists have accounted for the transition from agriculture to industry, and thus for the fact that China has achieved what countries in Africa and South America have found so much more difficult.
Responding to the global financial crisis of 2007-8 and the austerity policies that followed, the Occupy movement focussed attention on social inequality with the slogan 'We are the 99%'. This implied a clash between the wealth and interests of a tiny elite and the experiences of the average member of society. But is this 99:1 split a useful or appropriate measure of inequality? And can we give a precise meaning to the notion of the 'average' person? This course explores a variety of ways in which social scientists have tried to answer these questions through numerical measures of the size and extent of inequality. As will be shown, these proposed answers are not solely neutral technicalities but have potential political and social implications.