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Philosophy 380: Seminar on Contractualism
Fall 2007
MW 2:00-3:50 PM
Morse-Ingersoll 207

Professor: Matt Tedesco
          Phone: 363-2146

Office Hours: Tuesdays and Fridays 1-2, Thursdays 2-3, and by appointment
          Office: Morse-Ingersoll 210

1)       Stephen Darwall (ed.), Contractarianism/Contractualism (Blackwell, 2003)
2)       John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, revised edition (Harvard UP, 1999)
3)       T.M. Scanlon, What We Owe to Each Other (Harvard UP, 1998)

The Class:

The social contract tradition of moral and political philosophy has two distinct branches. The first, tracing back to Thomas Hobbes, understands political authority and moral obligation primarily in terms of self-interest, where political consent and moral decision-making are essentially kinds of strategic choices. This first branch, which has come to be called contractarianism, diverges from a second branch called contractualism that has its historical roots in the work of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant. Contractualists emphasize the fundamental equality of persons in rationally justifying our moral and political principles. Contemporary defenses of contractualism, most notably John Rawls A Theory of Justice and T.M. Scanlons What We Owe to Each Other, have been influential in offering contemporary Kantian frameworks that provide workable, systematic alternatives to consequentialism.

The purpose of this class is to critically examine the contractualist philosophical tradition, paying particular attention to the influential contributions of Rawls and Scanlon, as well as recent critical discussions of Scanlons important work. As a philosophy class, our emphasis will be on the analysis of concepts and the critical evaluation of arguments. Beyond gaining a familiarity with some of the core contractualist literature, students should expect to develop their analytic and evaluative skills through both in-class discussion and a range of writing assignments, and to develop their research skills through the composition of a term paper.


Your grade in the class will be determined as follows:


You will write a term paper of approximately 15-20 pages (4500-6000 words) on a topic of your choosing, presumably connected with one or more of our class readings from the syllabus. This paper is due no later than Monday, December 10th in class. In most cases, your paper will involve a substantial critical discussion of one of our class readings, or else of some other philosophical work related to our class readings. Your paper is expected to engage multiple philosophical sources, and you are expected to attend to any relevant philosophical literature outside of our syllabus. If you would like to turn in a draft for comments, you must get that draft to me no later than Monday, November 19th. Further details about this paper will be passed along as the semester progresses.


You will complete an in-class mid-term exam, worth 20% of your overall class grade, administered on Wednesday, October 10th. In it, you will be asked to compose one or more essays directly addressing the material that weve covered in the first half of the class.


You will be responsible for sending weekly response e-mails to me throughout the semester. These e-mails should be at least 350 words in length. More than mere reactions, these e-mails should provide enough detail to reflect a serious and thoughtful engagement with our readings. The primary purpose of these e-mails is to ensure that you come to class having thought carefully about the material under discussion for the day; accordingly, they should be turned in before we discuss in class the material addressed in your response. A secondary purpose for this assignment is to help you begin to think about potential term paper topics. Note that these responses are weekly; you may turn in no more than one per week.

Your responses will not be evaluated for correctness, though they will be rejected if they fall short of the minimum word length, or else if they fail to be sufficiently thoughtful. If you successfully complete twelve, you will receive an A for this portion of your grade. For each one not successfully completed, this portion of your grade will decrease by one-third of a letter grade (so, turning in eleven earns an A-, ten a B+, etc.). For our purposes, each week ends at the start of our Wednesday class meeting; any response e-mails sent afterwards will count for the next week.

Youll need to adhere to three rules in formatting your response e-mails. First, the subject of your e-mails should include the number of the response. Second, dont send any attachments; your response e-mail should be the text of the e-mail itself. And third, dont include other business (questions about assignments, requests for a meeting, etc.) in your response e-mails; send all of that stuff as a separate correspondence.


One important distinction between seminars and other classes is the way that seminars place an especially high premium on dialogue and interaction. Student participation is essential to a well-functioning seminar, and in this spirit, you will be expected to make frequent thoughtful contributions to class discussion. If you are concerned about your ability to meet this requirement, you ought to plan as a rule of thumb to try to make at least one contribution to every class discussion.

Some necessary components for satisfactorily fulfilling this participation requirement are being present in class for our meetings, having read the material for the day, and being an active and alert listener to the ongoing discussion. Students who miss more than two class meetings, or who have a tendency to be otherwise disengaged from the discussion, should expect a substantial penalty on this portion of their grade. And, of course, attending class and being alert are not sufficient for satisfactory participation; students who attend regularly but who very seldom speak should expect an F on this portion of their grade.

If a situation of prolonged absence is unavoidable, please make sure to contact me about it. Be aware that I will request proper documentation should such a circumstance arise.


What follows is the plan for the semester as I see it now. Reading assignments should be completed before the class that theyre assigned. Note that this schedule is tentative; we may deviate from it as the semester progresses and class discussion takes on a life of its own. If changes are required, they will be announced in class.

If you have specific physical, psychiatric, or learning disabilities and require accommodations, please provide the appropriate LSSC documentation to me early in the semester so that your learning needs may be effectively met.

Late in the semester, our syllabus includes several articles from the April 2002 edition of the philosophical journal Ethics (volume 112, number 3), which featured a symposium on Scanlons book. These articles are available to you in at least two different ways. First, the Beloit College library subscribes to this journal, and the issue can be found in the librarys holdings. Second, and potentially much easier, the library provides electronic access to the journal through a partnership with the University of Chicago, whose press publishes Ethics. When you search for the journal on the library website, you can find links to both Current issues via University of Chicago and Back issues via JSTOR; the former should provide access to the issue.

8/29:       Class introductions

9/3:         Hobbes, Leviathan (C/C 11-51)
9/5:         Gautier, Why Contractarianism? (C/C 91-107)
9/10:       Gautier, Morals by Agreement (C/C 108-137)
9/12:       Harman, Convention (C/C 138-148)

The Foundations of Contractualism
9/17:       Rousseau, The Social Contract (C/C 55-79)
9/19:       Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (C/C 80-87)
9/24:       Watson, Some Considerations in Favor of Contractualism (C/C 249-269)

Rawls' Contractualism
9/26:       Rawls, Ch. 1: Justice as Fairness (TOJ 3-46)
10/1:       Rawls, Ch. 2: The Principles of Justice (TOJ 47-101)
10/3:       Rawls, Ch. 3: The Original Position (TOJ 102-168)
10/8:       Rawls, Ch. 7: Goodness as Rationality (TOJ 347-396)
10/10:    MID-TERM


10/22:    Rawls, Ch. 9: The Good of Justice (TOJ 450-514)
10/24:    Rawls, Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory (C/C 190-218)

Scanlon's Contractualis
10/29:    Scanlon, Ch. 1: Reasons (WWO 17-77)
10/31:    Scanlon, Ch. 2: Values (WWO 78-107)
11/5:       Scanlon, Ch. 3: Well-Being (WWO 108-143)
11/12:    Scanlon, Ch. 4: Wrongness and Reasons (WWO 147-188)
11/14:    Scanlon, Ch. 5: The Structure of Contractualism (WWO 189-247)
11/19:    Scanlon, Ch. 6: Responsibility (WWO 248-294)
               DRAFTS DUE (optional)
11/21:    Scanlon, Ch. 7: Promises (WWO 295-327)
11/26:    Scanlon, Ch. 8: Relativism (WWO 328-361)

Discussion of Scanlon's Contractualism
11/28:    Wallace, Scanlons Contractualism (Ethics 112, 429-470)
12/3:       Dworkin, Contractualism and the Normativity of Principles (Ethics 112, 471-482)
12/5:       Deigh, Promises under Fire (Ethics 112, 483-506)
12/10:    Scanlon, Reasons, Responsibility, and Reliance (Ethics 112, 507-528)
               TERM PAPERS DUE

12/12:    Class conclusions