Timetable information in the Course Catalogue may be subject to change.

University Homepage
DRPS Homepage
DRPS Search
DRPS Contact
DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Politics

Undergraduate Course: What's Wrong with Inequality? (PLIT10110)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryWhat is wrong with inequality? Inequality is increasing in many parts of the globe. Politicians and economists are increasingly aware that inequality produces political and economic challenges. Yet inequality is also a moral matter. This course concentrates on understanding the moral considerations at the heart of our concern with equality and inequality. It introduces students to the most important contributions in recent moral and political philosophy on egalitarianism and emerging challenges in the struggle for equality. Students will be equipped with a comprehensive understanding of the central moral issues regarding equality and inequality. Who should we consider as equals? Should our concern with equality focus on distributing society's goods equally, or promoting egalitarian attitudes such as respect? Should we prioritise improving the condition of the worst-off, or ensure everyone has identical shares of society's goods? We will also consider radical critiques of the dominant egalitarian discourses, and explore how issues such as gender, race, and colonialism should affect our understanding of equality. This course will be particularly complementary to students taking Social Inequality and the Life Course (SCPL10020) as it will consider many of the fundamental moral and theoretical questions that inform our empirical investigation of social inequality.
Course description This course aims to introduce students to central debates in moral and political philosophy regarding equality. The goal is both to explore the important arguments regarding key issues in egalitarianism and also offer students opportunity to critique these from a range of alternative perspectives (such as critiques of egalitarianism from gender, race, and post-colonial theory). The course may vary from year to year, but typical topics include:

Equality for whom? Who should be included in our egalitarian concern? What are the boundaries of inclusion as a subject of equality?

Equality of what? What should egalitarians seek to distribute equally? Should egalitarians seek to equalise resources, access to advantage, capabilities, social primary goods, or opportunities for welfare?
Equality or Not? Does equality have intrinsic value? Is equality justified if it means making people equal by making everyone worse off? Instead of pursuing equality, should we prioritise the worst off, or ensure everyone has enough? Or should we shift our attention from distributive questions in equality and focus on egalitarian relationships in society such as respect and dignity.

Equality where? Should egalitarian reforms concentrate on individuals and their ethos, social institutions, or social groups? Is egalitarianism able to respond to claims of liberation and emancipation, and critiques from post-colonial, gender, and race perspectives?
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed: Introduction to Politics and International Relations (PLIT08004) OR Politics in a Changing World: An Introduction for non-specialists (PLIT08012)
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements Students who have not taken Introduction to Politics and International Relations (PLIT08004) OR Politics in a Changing World (PLIT08012), but have taken a similar course, should contact the Course Organiser to confirm if they are eligible to take this course.
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 4 Politics/International Relations courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses.
** as numbers are limited, visiting students should contact the Visiting Student Office directly for admission to this course **
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Present written and verbal analysis of arguments regarding equality in a clear, logical, and lucid form
  2. Identify accurately the main theoretical positions in debates on equality
  3. Compare and contrast a range of alternative arguments regarding the nature and value of equality
  4. Develop critical evaluations of arguments regarding equality examined in the course
  5. Apply relevant theoretical positions regarding equality to salient examples of social equality/inequality and reflect critically and independently on the most appropriate response to the moral problems of equality and inequality
Reading List
Anderson, Elizabeth, 1999, "What Is the Point of Equality?", Ethics 109, pp. 287-337.

Arneson, Richard J., 1989, "Equality and Equal Opportunity for Welfare" Philosophical Studies 56, pp. 77-93

Carter, Ian, 2011, "Respect and the Basis of Equality" Ethics (121), 538-571.

Clayton, Matthew and Andrew Williams (eds.), 2000, The Ideal of Equality, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, and New York: St. Martin's Press

Cohen, G. A., 2000, If You're an Egalitarian, How Come You're So Rich?, Cambridge: MA: Harvard University Press.

Daniels, Norman, 1990, "Equality of What? Welfare, Resources, or Capabilities?", Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 50 (supp. vol.), pp. 273-296.

Dworkin, Ronald, 2000, Sovereign Virtue: Equality in Theory and Practice, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Frankfurt, Harry, 2000, "The Moral Irrelevance of Equality," Public Affairs Quarterly 14, pp. 87-103
Held, Virginia (ed.), 1995. Justice and Care: Essential Readings in Feminist Ethics, Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
McKerlie, Dennis, 2001, "Justice Between the Young and the Old," Philosophy and Public Affairs 30, pp. 152-177.

McMahan, Jeff, 1996, "Cognitive Disability, Misfortune, and Justice," Philosophy and Public Affairs 25, pp. 3-34.

Mills, Charles, 2003, From Class to Race: Essays in White Marxism and Black Radicalism, Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield

Nussbaum, Martha, 2003, "Capabilities and Functional Entitlements: Sen and Social Justice". Feminist Economics, 9 (2-3): 33-59.

Parfit, Derek, 1997, "Equality and Priority," Ratio 10, pp. 202-221

Sen, Amartya, "Equality of What?", in S. McMurrin (ed.), The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, vol. 1, 1980, Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, reprinted in Sen, 1982, Choice, Welfare and Measurement, Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 353-369.

Wolff, Jonathan, 1998, "Fairness, Respect, and the Egalitarian Ethos," Philosophy and Public Affairs 27, pp. 97-122.

Young, Iris Marion, 1990, Justice and the Politics of Difference, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Mindsets
Enquiry and lifelong learning
This course provides structured support for combining theoretical and applied analysis of a central social problem: inequality. The emphasis on developing skills of "application" will support students in their ability to bring a critical approach to issues of social equality whatever their future personal and career choices. This approach is informed by David Boud's "Sustainable Assessment" approach where the goal of assessment is in part to promote life-long, sustained learning by the student.

Aspiration and personal development
The pedagogy of this course is strongly informed by Carol Dweck's research into "Growth Mindsets" which are shown to strongly correlate to higher attainment, positive personal development, and greater internal motivation. These are all attributes supported by the skills strand throughout this course and the "Critical Reasoning Exercise" assessment)

Outlook and engagement
This course will embody the principles that social problems such as equality/inequality require sophisticated moral reasoning in addition to sound empirical understanding. The emphasis on normative reasoning skills, and also the inclusion of radical critiques in the syllabus, will emphasise to students the importance of regarding social problems as challenges that demand an informed and principled reform, rather than immutable phenomena susceptible only to description and explanation.

Research and enquiry
A primary goal of the aligned LO's and assessment is to promote the keys skills of analytical reasoning. Analytical political philosophy is characterized by demanding standards of conceptual and logical analysis of social problems. Though this course will include a wide range of "methodological" approaches, the central body of literature is analytical in form and so the embedded study skills and assessment (especially the "Critical Reasoning Exercise") support developing students' skills in this mode or reasoning.

Personal and intellectual autonomy
The highest-level learning outcome (Reflect critically and Independently...) requires students to develop their own analysis of issues around equality and inequality. Students will be introduced to "independent analysis" skills, where they develop original criticisms/justifications of others' arguments, and will be encouraged to think creatively as they develop original responses to the literature considered. This will promote their general ability to reason individually, independently, and creatively.

The course will provide an opportunity to consider effective communication, especially as an associated quality of clear and rigorous analytical reasoning. We will study exemplars of excellent academic prose, and I will provide a range of resources to support students' writing skills, informed by recent work in "composition studies" where we explore techniques such as free writing, generative writing, reverse outlining etc.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Philip Cook
Tel: (0131 6)51 1577
Course secretaryMr John Riddell
Tel: (0131 6)50 9975
Help & Information
Search DPTs and Courses
Degree Programmes
Browse DPTs
Humanities and Social Science
Science and Engineering
Medicine and Veterinary Medicine
Other Information
Combined Course Timetable
Important Information