The Moral Foundations of Politics

Yale, , Prof. Ian Shapiro

Updated On 02 Feb, 19


Information and Housekeeping - Natural Law Roots of the Social Contract Tradition - Origins of Classical Utilitarianism - Classical Utilitarianism and Distributive Justice - From Classical to Neoclassical Utilitarianism - The Neoclassical Synthesis of Rights and Utility - Limits of the Neoclassical Synthesis - The Marxian Challenge - Marx's Theory of Capitalism - Marxian Exploitation and Distributive Justice - The Marxian Failure and Legacy - Appropriating Locke Today - Rights as Side Constraints and the Minimal State - Compensation versus Redistribution - The Rawlsian Social Contract - Distributive Justice and the Welfare State - The "Political-not-Metaphysical" Legacy - The Burkean Outlook - Democracy and Majority Rule - Democratic Justice: Theory,Applications


Lecture 17: Distributive Justice and the Welfare State

4.1 ( 11 )

Lecture Details

Moral Foundations of Politics (PLSC 118)

The main focus of todays discussion is Rawlss third, and most problematic, principle is the difference principle, which states that income and wealth is to be distributed "to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged individual." This stems from the logic that what is good for the least advantaged individual will be good for the second-least advantaged, and the third, and so on. But what if slightly benefiting the least advantaged person comes at a huge cost to others? Professor Shapiro explores Rawlss defense. It is important to note that Rawls is not trying to give marginal policy advice, or even determine whether socialism or capitalism benefits the least advantaged (which he leaves to empirics), but trying to determine the basic structure of society. However, Professor Shapiro shows that the difference principle is not necessarily radical in the redistributive sense when compared with Pareto or Bentham, but it is radical in a philosophical sense. Rawls argues that the differences between individuals are morally arbitrary--its moral luck that determines the family one is born into, what country one is born in, or ones capacities. However, some of the consequences are unsavory. Although Rawls tries in vain to exclude what one chooses to make of ones capacities, could not effort, or capacity to work, fall into this sphere as well? What is to be said of two equally intelligent people, one of who works hard and gets As while the other lies on the couch and watches ESPN all day?

Complete course materials are available at the Open Yale Courses website httpopen.yale.educourses

This course was recorded in Spring 2010.



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Excellent course helped me understand topic that i couldn't while attendinfg my college.

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Great course. Thank you very much.