POLS 456, 2009-10

Libertarianism has been much in the news this past year, as the financial crisis unfolded, and the influence of novelist Ayn Rand on Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan became a matter of public debate. POLS 456 (offered Winter 2010) will cover the classic general statements of libertarianism (e.g. Friedman, Hayek, Nozick), but also examine specific policy issues from a libertarian perspective (e.g. drug use, marriage). The course will focus on standard, “right-libertarianism,” but will also address recent debates about “left-libertarianism” (Vallentyne, Steiner, Otsuka; people who start from libertarian philosophical assumptions, but reach egalitarian conclusions about policy, roughly speaking). The readings will all be from the 20th and 21st centuries (though remembering your Locke from POLS 250 would be helpful).

What is libertarianism? The following links will give you the flavour:

Justice and Reciprocity

I’ve posted a new paper on SSRN about “Justice and Reciprocity.”  Here is the abstract:

This paper addresses the question of when and why duties are conditional on compliance on the part of others, by examining the role of reciprocity in Rawls’s theory of justice. In particular, it argues that the idea of reciprocity and the relational nature of distributive justice can help explain three otherwise puzzling aspects of Rawls’s view: (1) his claim that justice has to be “congruent” with the good; (2) his claim that the justification of a political conception of justice depends on showing that an overlapping consensus of reasonable comprehenisve doctrines is possible, even after the freestanding argument for the political conception has been successfully completed (3) his claim that there are no global duties of distributive justice, beyond the non-comparative duties of aid and reparation. Each of these arguments has been the subject of controversy partly because of a lack of attention to reciprocity, the paper argues, and the relational nature of Rawls’s non-luck-egalitarian position.

Under (1) the paper addresses the debate between Samuel Freeman and Brian Barry about congruence.  Under (2) the paper addresses the criticisms Jurgen Habermas and Brian Barry made of Rawls’s political liberalism, specifically, their criticisms of Rawls’s two-stage model of justification.  Under (3) the paper discusses arguments by Michael Blake, Arash Abizadeh, Andrea Sangiovanni, Joe Heath, and again Sam Freeman.  Reciprocity is the thread that holds it all together.

Who’s Afraid of Essentialism?

The term “essentialism” often comes up in my classes, and I always stop my students to ask what it means. It is supposed to be a bad thing to make essentialist claims, but what exactly is the problem? Perhaps an essentialist is someone who makes a claim of the form “all X’s are A”, for example, “all women are nurturing” Yet in academic work, people rarely make such categorical claims; obviously most variables, well, vary. Maybe most X’s are A, maybe more X’s are A than Y’s are A, but in the social sciences our data are almost always noisy. The sin of essentialism has to be something more than simply inaccurate generalization. But what? Continue reading Who’s Afraid of Essentialism?

POLS 451, 2009-10

In the fall I am again teaching a seminar on toleration and public reason. I’ve modified the readings somewhat and changed the evaluation structure. Here is a [revised Aug 27] draft of the syllabus:

POLS 451, Fall 2009

Toleration and Public Reason

*Provisional Draft; to be finalized at first meeting of the class, and then posted on course wiki*

Time and Location: Wed., 11:30 – 2:39, Mack-Corry D122

Instructor: Andrew Lister

email: andrew.lister@queensu.ca

Office: C426 Mack-Corry

Office tel.: 533-6229

Office hours: TBA, or by appointment


It seems plausible to many people that the question of who should be eligible for civil marriage should not be determined by religious views about sin and sexual orientation.  But were abolitionists wrong to appeal to god in opposing slavery?  How else can we determine the boundaries of human life without taking a position on religious and metaphysical questions?  Does the argument for justificatory neutrality with respect to religion carry through with respect to controversial ethical doctrines more generally?  If the controversial nature of views about the good life rules out state perfectionism, why does the controversial nature of welfare programs not rule out economic redistribution?  Is it not undemocratic to exclude from political discourse the fundamental convictions of ‘citizens of faith’?  Is it even conceivable to “apply the principle of toleration to philosophy itself,” as John Rawls suggests, since the exclusion of religious / ‘comprehensive’ reasons is itself controversial?

The purpose of this course is to think through these fundamental issues about the normative consequences of religious, philosophical, and moral disagreement for a democratic society.  The strategy of the course is to examine contemporary theoretical debates about public reason and political liberalism in the context of classical debates about religious toleration in Christianity.  The historical part of the course briefly covers Christian theories of persecution and toleration (Weeks 2 and 3).  The contemporary part of the course focuses on the ideas of political liberalism and public reason developed out of the social contract tradition by John Rawls, Thomas Nagel, and Charles Larmore (Weeks 4 to 7).  The applied part of the course examines the ideal of public reason in connection with a variety contemporary disputes about public policy (Weeks 8 – 11).  The final week looks at the ideas of public reason and political liberalism from the perspective of Islam.


1. Five 1-paragraph summaries, 5% each, spread out across the weeks.

2. Two 10-page critical assessments, each of a particular week’s readings, 20% each.

3. Attendance and participation in class, as well as in class note-taking system, and online discussion: 10%

4. Final exam: 25%


The course has a private “wiki” website: http://pols451-2009.projects.unamesa.org/.  You will get a login ID and password during the first class.  This site will not be accessible to the public.


During first class, we will discuss the following proposal concerning use of laptops during class.  The proposal (based on a survey of students in POLS 110 last year) is not to permit use of laptops in class, except for one designated note-taker per class.  Note-takers will post their notes on the private course wiki; others may comment or add as they see fit (myself included).  Note-taking duties will rotate.  (Notetakers need not use a laptop, but may).


The readings listed as “Required Readings” you are expected to have read prior to class, and will constitute the basis for testing on the final exam.  The readings listed as “Further Readings” you are not required to read for the exam.  They are listed to give you reference points in the literature for further reading.  Although your 10-page critical assessments (see above) are not research papers, you may want to read some of the further readings for the weeks you choose in order to fill in missing background or to get ideas as to possible lines of argument you might want to pursue.


Week 1: Introduction

Required Readings


Further Readings

Rainer Forst, “Toleration,” http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2007/entries/toleration/.

Catriona McKinnon, Toleration: A Critical Introduction (New York, NY: Routledge, 2006).

Bernard Williams, “Toleration: An Impossible Virtue?,” in Toleration: An Elusive Virtue, ed. David Heyd (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996).

Anna E Galeotti, “Toleration,” in Issues in Political Theory, ed. Catriona McKinnon (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Fred D’Agostino, “Public Justification,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), ed. Edward N. Zalta (2008).

Week 2: Christian Sources of Persecution and Toleration

Required Readings

Joseph Lecler, Toleration and the Reformation (New York: Association Press, 1960).Volume1, Chapters 1-4 (Old Testament – Medieval).

Istvan Bejczy, “Tolerantia: A Medieval Concept,” Journal of the History of Ideas 58, no. 3 (1997): 365-84.

Further Readings

Lecler, Toleration and the Reformation. Book II, Chapter 2 (The execution of Servetus)

Augustine, Letters, trans. Wilfrid Parsons, vol. 2, The Fathers of the Church (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1953). Letters 93 and 185

Roland Bainton, “The Parable of the Tares as the Proof Text for Religious Liberty to the End of the Sixteenth Century,” Church History 1, no. 2 (1932): 67-89.

Roland Bainton, “Sebastian Castellio and the Toleration Controversy of the 16th Century,” in Persecution and Liberty; Essays in Honor of George Lincoln Burr (New York: The Century Co, 1931).

Perez Zagorin, How the Idea of Religious Toleration Came to the West (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2003). Chapter 2, “The Christian Theory of Persecution”

Week 3: Locke

Required Readings

John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration (Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, 1983).

Jonas Proast, The Argument of the Letter Concerning Toleration, Briefly Consider’d and Answer’d (Oxford: George West and Henry Clements, 1690).

Jeremy Waldron, “Locke, Toleration and the Rationality of Persecution,” in Justifying Toleration: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives, ed. Susan Mendus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

Further Readings

Richard Vernon, The Career of Toleration : John Locke, Jonas Proast, and After, vol. McGill-Queen’s studies in the history of ideas ; 21 (Montréal ; Buffalo: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1997).

Alex Tuckness, “Locke’s Main Argument for Toleration,” in Toleration and Its Limits, ed. Melissa S. Williams, and Jeremy Waldron (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2008).

Micah Schwartzman, “The Relevance of Locke’s Religious Arguments for Toleration,” Political Theory 33, no. 5 (2005): 678-705.

Rainer Forst, “Pierre Bayle’s Reflexive Theory of Toleration,” in Toleration and Its Limits (New York, NY: New York University Press, 2008).

Week 4: Political Liberalism and Public Justification

Required Readings

Thomas Nagel, Equality and Partiality (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991). Chapter 14, “Toleration”

Charles Larmore, The Morals of Modernity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). Chapter 6, “Political Liberalism”

Further Readings

A. Basic Idea:

Jeremy Waldron, “Theoretical Foundations of Lilberalism,” The Philosophical Quarterly 37, no. 147 (1987): 127-50.

Thomas Nagel, “Moral Conflict and Political Legitimacy,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 16 (1987): 215-40.

John Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996)., Introductions, Lectures I, II, IV, V, VI, IX

Charles Larmore, “The Moral Basis of Political Liberalism,” The Journal of Philosophy 96, no. 12 (1999): 599-625. Just the first part, on Rawls, not the part on Habermas

B. Commentary and Critique:

Joseph Raz, “Facing Diversity: The Case of Epistemic Abstinence,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 19 (1990): 3-46.

Leif Wenar, “Political Liberalism: An Internal Critique,” Ethics 106 (1995): 32-62.

David M. Estlund, “The Insularity of the Reasonable: Why Political Liberalism Must Admit the Truth,” Ethics 108 (1998): 252-75.

Gerald F. Gaus, Contemporary Theories of Liberalism (Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, 2003). Chapter 7 (“Rawls’s Political Liberalism:…”)

Christopher J Eberle, Religious Conviction in Liberal Politics (Cambridge, U.K. ; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002). Chapters 5 and 7

Week 5: The Millian, Perfectionist Alternative

Required Readings

Will Kymlicka, “Two Models of Pluralism and Toleration,” in Toleration: An Elusive Virtue, ed. David Heyd (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996).

Thomas Hurka, “Indirect Perfectionism: Kymlicka on Liberal Neutrality,” The Journal of Political Philosophy 3 (1995): 36-57.

Further Readings

Joseph Raz, “Autonomy, Toleration, and the Harm Principle,” in Justifying Toleration: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives, ed. Susan Mendus (1988).

Steven Wall, “The Structure of Perfectionist Toleration,” in Perfectonism and Neutrality: Essays in Liberal Theory, ed. George Klosko, and Steven Wall (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003).

Gerald F. Gaus, “State Neutrality and Controversial Values in on Liberty,” in On Liberty: A Critical Guide, ed. C.L. Ten (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Week 6: Public Reason

Required Readings

Rawls, Political Liberalism., Lecture II, §1-3, pp. 48-66; Lecture VI, all, pp.212-254

Lawrence B. Solum, “Constructing an Ideal of Public Reason,” San Diego Law Review 30 (1993): 729-62. (but consider the appendix “further reading”)

Robert Audi, “The Separation of Church and State and the Obligations of Citizenship,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 18 (1989): 259-96.

Further Readings

John Rawls, “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited,”, The Law of Peoples (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999).

Bruce Bower, “The Limits of Public Reason,” Journal of Philosophy 91 (1994): 5-26.

Charles Larmore, “Public Reason,” in The Cambridge Companion to Rawls, ed. Samuel Richard Freeman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

Week 7: Religion and Public Reason

Philip L. Quinn, “Political Liberalisms and Their Exclusions of the Religious,” in Religion and Contemporary Liberalism, ed. Paul J. Weithman (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997).

Nicholas Wolterstorf, “Why We Should Reject What Liberalism Tells Us About Speaking and Acting in Public for Religious Reasons,” in Religion and Contemporary Liberalism, ed. Paul J. Weithman (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997).

Further Readings

Paul J. Weithman, “The Separation of Church and State: Some Questions for Professor Audi,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 20, no. 1 (1991): 52-65.

Robert Audi, “Religious Commitment and Secular Reason: A Reply to Professor Weithman,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 20, no. 1 (1991): 66-76.

Robert Audi, “The Place of Religious Argument in a Free and Democratic Society,” San Diego Law Review 30 (1993): 677-702.

Michael W. McConnell, “Five Reasons to Reject the Claim That Religious Arguments Should be Excluded From Democratic Deliberation,” Utah Law Review 3 (1999): 639-56.

Week 8: Borderlines of Status

Required Readings

Kent Greenawalt, Religious Convictions and Political Choice (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988). Ch.7, pp.120-144

R. M. Dworkin, Life’s Dominion : An Argument About Abortion, Euthanasia, and Individual Freedom (New York: Knopf, 1993). (excerpts)

Judith Jarvis Thomson, “Abortion: Whose Right?,” Boston Review 20, no. 3 (1995).

Further Readings

Stephen Macedo, “In Defense of Liberal Public Reason: Are Slavery and Abortion Hard Cases?,” in Natural Law and Public Reason, ed. Robert George, and Christopher Wolfe (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2000).

John Finnis, “Abortion, Natural Law, and Public Reason,” in Natural Law and Public Reason.

Jeffrey Reiman, “Abortion, Natural Law, and Liberal Discourse: A Response to John Finnis,” in Natural Law and Public Reason.

David Reidy, “Rawls’s Wide View of Public Reason: Not Wide Enough,” Res Publica 6 (2000): 49-72.

Andrew Williams, “The Alleged Incompleteness of Public Reason,” Res Publica 6, no. 2 (2000): 199-211.

Week 9: Distributive Justice

Required Readings

Simon Caney, “Liberal Legitimacy, Reasonable Disagreement and Justice,” in Pluralism and Liberal Neutrality, ed. Richard Bellamy, and Martin Hollis (Illford, Essex: Frank Cass Publishers, 1999).

Jonathan Quong, “Disagreement, Asymmetry, and Liberal Legitimacy,” Politics, Philosophy, Economics 4 (2005): 301-30.

Further Readings

Greenawalt, Religious Convictions and Political Choice., Chapter 9, 173-195

Joseph Chan, “Legitimacy, Unanimity, and Perfectionism,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 29, no. 1 (2000): 5-42.

Gerald F. Gaus, “Liberal Neutrality: A Compelling and Radical Principle,” in Perfectionism and Neutrality: Essays in Liberal Theory, ed. Stephen Wall, and George Klosko (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, Inc., 2003).

Michael Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, 2nd Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). (Chapter on Political Liberalism)

Week 10: Marriage and the Family

Required Readings

Ralph Wedgwood, “The Fundamental Argument for Same-Sex Marriage,” Journal of Political Philosophy 7 (1999): 225-42.

Mary Lyndon Shanley, Just Marriage (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). (including responses)

Linda McClain, “Intimate Affiliation and Democracy: Beyond Marriage?,” Hofstra Law Review 32 (2003): 379-421.

Further Readings

Jonathan Rauch, Gay Marriage: Why it is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2004). (first three chapters)

Week 11: Civic Education

Required Readings

Patricia White, “Parents’ Rights, Homosexuality and Education,” British Journal of Educational Studies 39, no. 4 (1991): 398-408.

Nomi Maya Stolzenberg, “”He Drew a Circle That Shut Me Out”: Assimilation, Indoctrination, and the Paradox of Liberal Education,” Harvard Law Review 106, no. 3 (1993): 581-667.

Stephen Macedo, “Liberal Civic Education and Religious Establishment: The Case of God V. John Rawls,” Ethics 105, no. 3 (1995): 468-96.

Further Readings

Eamonn Callan, “Political Liberalism and Political Education,” Review of Politics 58 (1996): 5-33.

Eamonn Callan, “Discrimination and Religious Schooling,” in Citizenship in Diverse Societies, ed. Will Kymlicka, and Wayne Norman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

“Chamberlain V. Surrey School District No. 36,” (2002).

Week 12: Islam and Political Liberalism

Required Readings

Mohammad Fadel, “Public Reason as a Strategy for Principled Reconciliation: The Case of Islamic Law and International Human Rights Law,” Chicago Journal of International Law 8, no. 1 (2007).

Mohammad Fadel, “The True, the Good and the Reasonable: The Theological and Ethical Roots of Public Reason in Islamic Law,” Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence 21, no. 1 (2008): 1-65.

Further Readings

Raja Bahlul, “Toward an Islamic Conception of Democracy: Islam and the Notion of Public Reason,” Critique: Critical Middle Eastern Studies 12, no. 1 (2003): 43-60.

Hamid Hadji Haidar, Liberalism and Islam: Practical Reconciliation Between the Liberal State and Shiite Muslims (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

Andrew March, “Liberal Citizenship and the Search for an Overlapping Consensus,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 34, no. 4 (2006): 373-421.

Andrew F. March, “Islamic Foundations for a Social Congtract in Non-Muslim Liberal Democracies,” American Political Science Review 101, no. 2 (2007): 235-52.

Laptop Ban Survey Results

In an earlier post I mentioned a poll by UCLA law prof Eugene Volokh about the laptop ban he had put into place in his criminal law class. It turns out Queen’s own Kim Nossal had banned laptops from POLS 110 this year. POLS 110 is our introductory politics class. So we did a quick survey of the students in POLS 110 to see what their views about the pros and cons of the policy were, compared to their other courses, using Volokh’s questions. The results were very interesting. Continue reading Laptop Ban Survey Results

Teaching for 2009-10

This coming year I will be teaching the following courses:

Fall-Winter: POLS 950, our core Ph.D. course for political theory students

Fall: POLS 451, a seminar on pluralism, toleration and public reason.

Winter: POLS 456, a seminar on libertarianism.
Winter: POLS 354, a lecture course on democratic theory.

POLS 451 will be a revised version of this term’s course. POLS 456 will be a new course on libertarianism, in which I plan to read the classics of libertarian thought: Friedman, Hayek, Nozick, maybe even Ayn Rand. The course will focus on standard, “right-libertarianism,” but it will conclude by addressing recent debates about “left-libertarianism” (Vallentyne, Steiner, Otsuka, Van Parijs). References to the main writings in each category can be found here

Laptop Bans

Interesting discussion over at Volokh.com prompted by law prof Eugene Volokh banning laptops from class. He did it as an experiment and then ran a survey and reported back to his colleagues. In general students reported greater levels of attention and interest in class, but found that their notes were less useful. Volokh arranged for one person per class to bring a computer, take notes, and share them. Some commenters in the discussion thread suggested banning internet rather than laptops. Of course there are always web-enabled cell phones, that don’t even need wi-fi, but they’re much less obtrusive. Volokh points out that it would be nice to have research about the effects of the presence of laptops on academic results, rather than just on student perceptions of learning.
Continue reading Laptop Bans

Notebook Demo Here

Saq has just released the notebook demo . You can download a copy of a course notebook synced to a demonstration Wikispace, and see how it works.

Next step: a page that automatically generates a notebook to go along with your own Wikispace. No, the notebook generator is there already. Here’s the link: Notebook Generator. The only limitation is that it’s set up to generate notebooks that have exactly the format for my pols250 course. That won’t be right for all uses. Saq is going to be working on different templates. That’s what will come later.

Notebook Demo Coming

Lewcid aka Saq Imtiaz of Unamesa is back to blogging, and is announcing the upcoming release of a demo version of the student notebook I’ve talked about in previous posts (here and here). The demo will allow you to create your own notebook-version i.e. personal, annotatable, offline-version of your wikispace. (The same TiddlyWiki -based technology could be adapted to other wikis). Stay tuned!