Liberalism and Its Critics

University of Oregon, PHIL 307, Social/Political Philosophy

Fall 2010 (for Fall 2011 course see the phil 307 coursekit).

Instructor: Colin Koopman
Course Meetings: Tue & Thur, 12.00p-1.20p, McKenzie 125
Office Hours: Tue, 9a-10 & Wed 12p-1p

Course Overview:

Liberalism has long been the dominant theoretical tradition in contemporary political philosophy in both North America and Europe. It is therefore unsurprising that liberalism has been subjected to severe criticism over the decades. In this course we will explore: I) the major theoretical and cultural origins of modern liberalism as a context for understanding the foremost work in contemporary liberal theory, II) a selection of critical problems which liberal political regimes face today, and III) the most influential and troubling criticisms of liberalism that have been voiced over the past few decades. In Part I we will begin with a brief tour through John Stuart Mill’s (1806-1873) classic statement of liberalism, exploring how Mill saw himself as reconciling the twin imperatives of romanticism and utilitarianism central to nineteenth-century British culture. We will then turn to contemporary liberalism and focus primarily on John Rawls’s (1921-2002) political liberalism, with additional attention to Friedrich Hayek’s (1899-1992) constitutionalist and Richard Rorty’s pragmatist (1931-2007) liberalism. In Part II we will briefly discuss some of the most pressing problems on the political scene today with an eye toward their impact on standard liberal governance: globalization, new media and internetworked media, the environment, and the politics of food. In Part III we will consider canonical Marxist, Anarchist, Communitarian, Genealogical, and Feminist criticisms of liberalism. At the very end of the course we will consider ways in which the quintessential liberal concepts of public and private can be (and possibly are being) transformed today.


1. Lecture Participation and In-Lecture Writing Assignments (20%).
You are expected to attend all lectures and complete a number of individual and group in-class writing exercises which will be assigned during almost every lecture session. Many of these assignments will require a good comprehension of the assigned reading at the beginning of class. If you do not attend lecture, you cannot make these up. If you have a legitimate reason for absence, such as a signed doctor note, you can submit the note with the makeup work in order for it to be considered, but it will be your responsibility to find out what you have missed.

2. Seminar-Session Participation (20%). You are expected to attend all sections and contribute to seminar discussions. Your sections are a crucial component of this course. Do not take them lightly or treat them as a merely secondary learning venue. This is often the most productive learning environment in a course of this size. Lectures will facilitate exposure to ideas, but it is in seminar that you will be able to really develop these ideas and sink your teeth into them. Come to your seminars prepared with questions about the readings and lectures. You must attend section: three absences from section is grounds for an ‘F’ in the course.

3. First Short Research Essay. (25%).
At the middle of the term, you will write a short 5-7 page argumentative essay concerning some aspect of either or both of the major texts we will be working with during Part I of the course (Mill & Rawls). It is your responsibility to develop both the question to which your essay is addressed as well as the thesis which you will argue for in response to this question. You need not discuss secondary literature (i.e., articles, books, or chapters about Mill and Rawls by other authors) but it will undoubtedly strengthen your essay as well as assist you in formulating a thesis if you do—one place where you can find relevant secondary literature is The Philosopher’s Index online database available through the UO library website. Formatting Your Paper: standard requirements apply—margins no tighter than 1”, 12pt Times or equivalent font, double-spaced, with all quotations and references cited according to your preferred standard format.

4. Short Problem Assessment (10%).
During Part II of the course we will spend about a week and a half exploring contemporary ‘crisis points’ or ‘problem spots’ for the liberal mode of governance we will have been focusing on thus far. Our approach here will be issue-based and we will work through a number of issues that seem to pose problems of liberalism that are not obviously resolvable. In conjunction with our work in this part of the course it will be your job to do the research for and produce a short paper in which you briefly make the case that some other contemporary issue poses equally difficult problems for liberalism. Your paper should be short, only 2-3 page long, but should show evidence of thorough acquaintance with your issue and (web- or library-based) research on that issue.

5. Second Short Research Essay (25%).
At the end of the term, you will write a short 5-7 page argumentative essay concerning one or more of the critiques of liberalism that we will be addressing in Part III of the course (Marx, Goldman, Sandel, Young, and Foucault). It will again be your responsibility to formulate a question or problem as well as a thesis in response. You may choose to defend one of the figures in Part I of the course from the criticisms in Part III, or you may choose to further develop one of the criticisms we will be working with in Part III. The point is for you to develop your thinking on these matters. Given that you will be writing a complete essay on one of these figures and we will discuss them in lecture for no more than one session, you should take seriously that the assignment is for a “research” essay by doing some of your own research on the figure (or tradition) you choose to write on. The best students will find useful secondary literature and develop their essays in terms of questions that arise in those essays, articles, chapters, and books.


Please purchase the two books listed below (they are available at the UO DuckStore) and bring them to every class session in which we are consulting those texts—all other readings will be made available on the course Blackboard site.

- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1987).
- John Rawls, Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2001).

Class Schedule:

Introduction and Plan of the Course
Sep 28 In-class reading: K. Anthony Appiah, The Ethics of Identity, ix-xi

Part I: Liberalism(s)
[readings from Part I other than the Mill and Rawls book are in the Part I packets]

Classical Liberalism:
Sep 30 Background readings for Mill: Bentham, Coleridge, Blake, Stevenson
J.S. Mill, On Liberty, Ch. I, pp.1-14 (Public/Private: The Harm Principle)
Oct 5 J.S. Mill, On Liberty, Ch. II, pp.15-52 (Liberty of Thought)
Oct 7 J.S. Mill, On Liberty, Ch. III, pp.53-82 & Ch. IV, pp.83-8 (Individuality & Sociality)

Egalitarian Liberalism:
Oct 12 Rawls, Justice as Fairness, Pt. I, pp.1-29 (Metaphilosophy: The Fundamental Ideas)
Oct 14 Rawls, Justice as Fairness, Pt. II, pp. 39-72 (Two Principles of Justice)
Oct 19 Rawls, Justice as Fairness, Pt III, pp.80-94 (Argument) & Pt. IV, 162-176 (Public/Private)

Oct 21 [Research Paper Workshop Day: Choosing Topics & Formulating Theses]

Free-Market Liberalism:
Oct 26 F.A. Hayek, “The Use of Knowledge in Society” & “Liberalism”, §§1, 7, 16

Pragmatist Liberalism:
Oct 28 Richard Rorty, “The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy”


Part II: Problems for Liberalism(s) Today
[all readings in Part II are in the Part II packet]

Nov 2 Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence, & Morality”
K. Anthony Appiah, “Making Conversation” in Cosmopolitanism
Supplementary: Nancy Fraser, “Reframing Justice in a Globalizing World”

The Internet:
Nov 4 Cass Sunstein, 2.0, selections tba
Daniel Solove, The Digital Person, selections tba
Supplementary: Manuel DeLanda, “Open Source: A Movement in Search of a Philosophy” [avail. online]
Supplementary: Eric Raymond, “The Cathederal and the Bazaar” [avail. online]

Nov 9
Environmental Politics:
Eckersley, “Politics” in Companion to Env. Phil.
Supplementary: Keith Woodhouse, “The Politics of Ecology: Environmentalism & Liberalism in the 1960s”
Food Politics:
Vandana Shiva, “Hijacking of the Global Food Supply” & “Food Democracy”
Supplementary: Vandana Shiva, et. al, “Manifestos on the Future of Food & Seed”


Part III: Critique(s) of Liberalism(s)
[all readings in Part III are in the Part III packet]

Marxist Critique:
Nov 11 Karl Marx, “Estranged Labour”, pp.70-81 & “On the Jewish Question”, pp.26-46

Anarchist Critique:
Nov 16 Emma Goldman, “Anarchism: What It Really Stands For”, pp.47-69

Communitarian Critique:
Nov 18 Michael Sandel, “Justice and the Good”, pp.159-176

Feminist Critique:
Nov 23 Iris Marion Young, “The Ideal of Impartiality and the Civic Public”, pp.96-121
Nov 25 [Thanksgiving Break]

Genealogical Critique:
Nov 30 Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, pp.3-14, 200-209, 218-228

Conclusion: Pluralism about Liberalism(s)
Pluralistic Publics and Pluralistic Privacy:
Dec 2 Colin Koopman, “Pragmatist Public Pluralism: An Explication and Defense”
Colin Koopman & Deirdre Mulligan, “A Multi-Dimensional Taxonomy of Privacy”
Supplementary: Bernard Williams, “Conflicts of Values”
Supplementary: Stuart Hampshire, Justice Is Conflict, Preface & Chapter 1


Other Information:

Some Additional Facts about this Course:
• Grades: Work must be excellent to receive an ‘A’, good to receive a ‘B’, and average or just passing to earn a ‘C’.
• Late Work: Late assignments will not be accepted except in exceptional cases when both GTF and Instructor agree.
• Cheating: If you cheat and/or plagiarize your assignment you will fail that assignment (no exceptions) and, except in very exceptional cases, you will also fail the course. If you have questions see me, or visit .
• Discrimination: Expression of bias on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, or ability will not be tolerated.
• Disability: If you experience barriers to effective participation in this course, please notify me as soon as possible.

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