PHIL E-162 Economic Justice
Capitalism organizes society around individual pursuits of material gain. Capitalism seems to have won the great ideological struggle with other ways of organizing society. But there is much discontent. The Occupy Movement made clear that even Americans now care about excessive inequality, and many worry about the future in an increasingly economically divided society where access to technology richly rewards some to the exclusion of many others. Capitalism is also closely associated with what is arguably the biggest policy problem of the twenty-first century, climate change. So how can we justify capitalism? And what are feasible alternative ways of organizing society? This class begins with an assessment of the current crisis and explores a range of influential arguments for capitalism. Then we turn to socialist/communist approaches focusing on some of the more influential writings of Karl Marx. Finally, we explore the liberal egalitarianism of John Rawls. The debate about capitalism and its alternatives (and about what capitalism might learn from those) addresses the central political and social concerns of our times. This class offers an in-depth encounter with the major positions in that debate and thereby prepares students to participate in that debate in an informed way. While the first three lectures explore the current predicament and focus on social-scientific readings, the methodological outlook of the class is philosophical. Nonetheless, our concern is always with questions that shape political agendas now and in the foreseeable future.