Paper Prompts, PHIL 4359, Political Philosophy


1) Robert Nozick considers taxation to be a modern-day form of forced labor or debt slavery. To some, his is an extreme view that neglects the social goods that taxation accomplishes. To others, his view is a breath of fresh air – a powerful thinker who lays out clearly how modern governments oppress their citizens via ‘soft coercion’ tactics. Write a paper supporting or opposing Nozick’s taxation views.


2) Robert Nozick’s ‘entitlement’ view of justice in holdings privileges our free choices over the collective good. It also posits a historical (i.e. NOT a ‘current time-slice’) theory of just acquisitions and transfers. Many have criticized the real-world practicality of such a theory, including especially its historical efficacy. Do the many injustices that have occurred in our real-world history of acquisitions and transfers undermine the applicability of Nozick’s ‘entitlement’ view of justice? Write a paper defending or rejecting Nozick’s opinions about the practicality of the ‘entitlement’ view.


3) For John Rawls, “the question the dominant tradition has tried to answer has no answer: no comprehensive doctrine is appropriate as a political conception for a constitutional regime.” Is he right about this? Might it be possible to set up a liberal democracy, in loose accordance with a particular comprehensive doctrine, while still allowing space for just expressions of dissent? Or is such an ideal unachievable, as Rawls argues? This is a big-picture-type topic, so to write a good paper about this topic you will need to be concrete and cite one (or two, at most) particular thinker and/or set of ideas.


4) John Rawls, famously, thinks that social and economic inequalities ought to be to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged members of society. His ‘difference principle’ has often been criticized for the infringements on personal liberty that it (apparently) justifies. When Rawls says that persons behind the ‘veil of ignorance’ would privilege the least advantaged because they would not know what their own social status would be is he ‘stacking the deck’ toward his own progressive social views, over and against more conservative thinkers who would privilege values like free enterprise, personal choice, and self-reliance? If you were located behind Rawls’s ‘veil of ignorance,’ would you choose equality over liberty, or vice-versa? Write a paper supporting or opposing Rawls’s views here.


5) Robert George thinks that a state that purports to be ‘neutral’ about fundamental moral questions in fact, in practice, will allow (and encourage) its citizen’s vices. In other words, for George not taking a stance on the legislation of basic moral questions is in fact taking a stance on such questions – a stance that favors vice over virtue. It is impossible for the legislator to abstract herself from truth judgments about basic moral questions. Is George right about this? Write a paper supporting or opposing George’s views on morals legislation.


6) Robert George is critical of Ronald Dworkin’s ‘moral independence’ defense of the ‘right to privacy.’ For George, the public/private distinction which Dworkin makes is unsustainable. The abortion that is done in private has a public impact, the pornography that is consumed in private has a public impact, and so on. To legislate the behaviors of the citizens, at least to some extent, is justifiable because everything that we do in private has a public impact – and vice-versa. Is George right or mistaken about the unsustainability of the public/private distinction?


7) Robert George highlights two philosophers – Aristotle and Aquinas – as representatives of the ‘central tradition’ on matters of legal importance. What did Aristotle and Aquinas, respectively, consider to be the purposes of law and government? What kinds of practical proposals did they offer in support of their views? Do you agree or disagree with Aristotle and Aquinas? Provide reasons in support of your position.