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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Politics

Postgraduate Course: Equality and Its Critics (PGSP11523)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryEquality is a compelling and controversial political ideal. In recent decades debates about the nature and value of equality in society have flourished. This course focuses on the moral status of equality. It examines important arguments in defence of different conceptions of equality, evaluates critical objections to egalitarianism, and considers how different philosophical arguments around equality relate to practical social problems. This course is focused primarily on the debates in moral and political philosophy around egalitarianism but seeks to make clear the important implications of these arguments for real-world problems in social and political life. We will consider case-studies of different policy areas to exemplify particular arguments examined, and in order to evaluate how different theories help or hinder our ability to understand what equality or its alternatives demands in social and political life.
Course description Academic Description
Egalitarianism is one of the most important areas of debate in moral and political philosophy. These debates have profound implications for our social and political lives. This course aims to introduce students to arguments around the nature and value of equality, and to enable them to understand of the role of equality and its alternatives in matters of urgent importance in social and political life. Egalitarianism has attracted significant contributions from most of the major theorists, and represents a crucial body of literature that should be included in political theory curricula. This course provides a critical overview of the main contributions to debates on equality. It provides a thorough grounding in the main contributions to debates on egalitarianism by philosophers such as John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, G. A. Cohen, Elizabeth Anderson, Samuel Scheffler, Martha Nussbaum, Derek Parfit, Larry Temkin, Richard Arneson, Jonathan Wolff, T. M. Scanlon and Harry Frankfurt. Through a detailed examination of their arguments regarding equality, students will have a comprehensive understanding of the main areas of dispute, the central problems driving the debates, and the principle positions developed by these major thinkers. We will discuss approaches such as luck-egalitarianism, relational egalitarianism, telic egalitarianism, capabilities, prioritarianism, sufficientarianism, and pluralist egalitarianism. The course will ensure students engage with the very latest research and emerging arguments, and we will include discussions on new themes such as limitarianism and age-group equality. Central to the substantive content and learning experience will be applying the philosophical arguments covered in the course to empirical case studies on topics such as health inequalities, educational equality, disability, racial inequalities, and gender inequalities. Students will be presented with salient cases in order to help them understand the practical significance of the philosophical debates, and to enable them to evaluate the theories discussed in terms of the philosophical coherence and practical implications.

Indicative Outline Content
The content of the course may vary year-to-year, but typical topics to be discussed include: Rawls, Justice, and Equality; the "Equality of What?" debate; Relational Equality; Telic Egalitarianism, Prioritarianism and Sufficientarianism; Equality Between Generations.

Student Learning Experience
The course will be taught through 2-hour seminars dedicated to Masters students. Masters students will be invited to attend the lectures given in the UG version of the course if they find it helpful. Otherwise, the courses will run separately. The seminars will include a mixture of pedagogical approaches, such as peer-group learning through group work, problem-based learning through examining cases, critical reasoning analysis through examining arguments in detail, and other learning approaches as appropriate such as debates and presentations. The MSc version of the course will involve more advanced and longer readings than the UG version. In particular, students will be encouraged to relate the philosophical debates to practical cases in order to understand the social, political, and policy implications of the different theories discussed. This will include using a variety of media to present the cases such as news reports, policy documents, film, audio, and fiction. Students will be encouraged to bring their own experiences and circumstances as relevant cases where appropriate.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Demonstrate accurate and critical understanding of the principle theories, concepts, and arguments regarding egalitarianism
  2. Critically compare and contrast different theories, concepts, and arguments in debates regarding equality
  3. Apply knowledge, skills and understanding gained from studies in egalitarian debates to concrete cases in social and political life, such as health, education, disability, gender, race, and age-group equalities and inequalities
  4. Create original critical responses to existing disputes about the nature and value of equality, including through the use of relevant cases and relevant personal experiences.
Reading List
Anderson, Elizabeth, 1999, "What Is the Point of Equality?", Ethics 109, pp. 2871337.

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

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.

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

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

Scanlon, T. M. 2018, Why Does Inequality Matter? Oxford University Press.

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.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills 1. Graduate Attributes, Personal and Professional Skills (Previously Transferrable Skills)

1. Demonstrate ability to understand, articulate and synthesise complex arguments and theories in an accessible and independent manner.

2. Communicate effectively their critical understanding of debates regarding equality verbally and in written work, including to other students in peer-group learning activities.

3. Work effectively both independently and in group-work settings, including developing skills at assigning tasks, prioritising activities, managing workloads, and reflecting self-critically on their own roles and responsibilities as collegiate learners.

4. Identify and utilise appropriate resources for case studies, including ability to use a range of media and technologies suitable to present the cases (such as policy reports, video, audio, images etc.).
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Philip Cook
Tel: (0131 6)51 1577
Course secretaryMrs Casey Behringer
Tel: (0131 6)50 2456
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