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Chambers, Clare, and Phil Parvin. Teach Yourself Political Philosophy: A Complete Introduction

2012, Hodder & Stoughton

Publisher’s Note: Written by Phil Parvin and Clare Chambers, who are current political philosophy lecturers and leading researchers, Political Philosophy – The Essentials is designed to give you everything you need to succeed, all in one place. It covers the key areas that students are expected to be confident in, outlining the basics in clear jargon-free English, and then providing added-value features like summaries of key thinkers, and even lists of questions you might be asked in your seminar or exam. The book’s structure follows that of most university courses on political philosophy, by looking at the essential concepts within political philosophy (freedom, equality, power, democracy, rights, the state, political obligation), and then looking at the ways in which political philosophers have used these fundamental concepts in order to tackle a range of normative political questions such as whether the state has a responsibility to alleviate inequalities, and what interest liberal and democratic states should take in the cultural or religious beliefs of citizens.

Comment: 'Phil Parvin and Clare Chambers have produced a state of the art textbook, which provides students with a comprehensive and bang up-to-date introduction to contemporary political philosophy. Topics are introduced in a clear and eminently readable fashion, using accessible real world examples whilst drawing on sophisticated scholarly literature. There is no comparable book which covers such a wide range of topics in such a student-friendly manner.' (Dr Daniel Butt, Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Bristol.) 'A lively, accessible and engaging read. Comprehensive and well organized, it provides an updated account of key concepts in contemporary political philosophy, and highlights their relevance to political life in the 21st century. A valuable book for anyone taking their first steps in the world of political philosophy, or anyone who seeks to understand the normative challenges faced by our society today.' (Dr Avia Pasternak, Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Essex.) 'Written in a clear and accessible style, it is an engaging introduction for those who are new to political philosophy and wish to think through some of its most important questions. In addition to offering outlines of key arguments, each chapter also contains a summary of main concepts, self-test questions, a wonderful selection of quotations and some attention-grabbing 'nuggets'' (Dr Zosia Stemplowska, University Lecturer in Political Theory, University of Oxford)

Coleman, Elizabeth Burns, and . Repatriation and the Concept of Inalienable Possession

2010, In The Long Way Home, edited by Paul Turnbull and Michael Pickering: Berghan Books.

Summary: The concept of inalienable possession often figures centrally in debates about repatriation of cultural artifacts (which are also often artworks). The right of alienability (or the right to transfer title to property) is one of the core rights in Western property theory. If property is inalienable, this means that title to it cannot rightly be transferred. In this paper, Coleman analyzes the concept of inalienable possession, and argues that laws (such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA)) can foist a conception of inalienable possession on indigenous peoples that can be inaccurate to past and changing cultural norms. She uses this point to offer a distinction between property and ownership. This opens up conceptual space for a link between objects and identity through ownership that might nevertheless allow for the alienability of such property.

Comment: This paper is best for a course unit that is making room for in-depth discussion of the property dimensions of cultural property. It would pair well with Janna Thompson's "Art, Property Rights, and the Interests of Humanity," or James O. Young's "Cultures and Cultural Property." It can be also used together with or in lieu of Sarah Harding's much longer and more detailed paper "Justifying Repatriation of Native American Cultural Property."

Darby, Derrick, and . Reparations and Racial Inequality

2010, Philosophy Compass 5 (1): 55-66.

Abstract: A recent development in philosophical scholarship on reparations for black chattel slavery and Jim Crow segregation is reliance upon social science in normative arguments for reparations. Although there are certainly positive things to be said in favor of an empirically informed normative argument for black reparations, given the depth of empirical disagreement about the causes of persistent racial inequalities, and the ethos of ‘post-racial’ America, the strongest normative argument for reparations may be one that goes through irrespective of how we ultimately explain the causes of racial inequalities. By illuminating the interplay between normative political philosophy and social scientific explanations of racial inequality in the prevailing corrective justice argument for black reparations, I shall explain why an alternative normative argument, which is not tethered to a particular empirical explanation of racial inequality, may be more appealing.

Comment: This text provides a clear overview and introduction to debates about reparations for decendents of African American slaves. It also surveys quite a bit of empirical data surrounding racial inequalities. It would fit well in a course that considered questions of social justice, racial inequality, or reparations.

Foot, Philippa, and . Euthanasia

1977, Philosophy and Public Affairs 6 (2):85-112. Reprinted in her Virtues and vices. Oxford: Blackwell.

Comment: This text is of central interest in teaching about moral issues related to euthanasia. The text introduces the vital distinctions between active and passive, voluntary and nonvoluntary euthanasia, and argues in favour of moral permissibility of all but the active nonvoluntary type.

Garcia, Jorge L. A., and . Health versus Harm: Euthanasia and Physicians’ Duties

2007, Journal of Medicine and Philsophy, 31 (1): 7-24.

Abstract: This essay rebuts Gary Seay’s efforts to show that committing euthanasia need not conflict with a physician’s professional duties. First, I try to show how his misunderstanding of the correlativity of rights and duties and his discussion of the foundation of moral rights undermine his case. Second, I show aspects of physicians’ professional duties that clash with euthanasia, and that attempts to avoid this clash lead to absurdities. For professional duties are best understood as deriving from professional virtues and the commitments and purposes with which the professional as such ought to act, and there is no plausible way in which her death can be seen as advancing the patient’s medical welfare. Third, I argue against Prof. Seay’s assumption that apparent conflicts among professional duties must be resolved through ‘balancing’ and argue that, while the physician’s duty to extend life is continuous with her duty to protect health, any duty to relieve pain is subordinate to these. Finally, I show that what is morally determinative here, as throughout the moral life, is the agent’s intention and that Prof. Seay’s implicitly preferred consequentialism threatens not only to distort moral thinking but would altogether undermine the medical (and any other) profession and its internal ethics.

Comment: This text will mostly be of use to advanced students (or courses) focusing on the ethics of physician assisted suicide or euthanasia. It presents a detailed rebuttal to Seay's "Euthanasia and Physicians' Moral Duties," so it will be of most use to students who have read Seay's text or are deeply familiar with defenses of euthanasia based in consequentialist moral reasoning.

Hurd, Heidi, and . The Moral Magic of Consent

1996, Legal Theory 2(2): 121-146.

Abstract: We regularly wield powers that, upon close scrutiny, appear remarkably magical. By sheer exercise of will, we bring into existence things that have never existed before. With but a nod, we effect the disappearance of things that have long served as barriers to the actions of others. And, by mere resolve, we generate things that pose significant obstacles to others’ exercise of liberty. What is the nature of these things that we create and destroy by our mere decision to do so? The answer: the rights and obligations of others. And by what seemingly magical means do we alter these rights and obligations? By making promises and issuing or revoking consent When we make promises, we generate obligations for ourselves, and when we give consent, we create rights for others. Since the rights and obligations that are affected by means of promising and consenting largely define the boundaries of permissible action, our exercise of these seemingly magical powers can significantly affect the lives and liberties of others

Comment: Good introduction to the topic of consent as it makes clear both how strange it is as a power and how pervasive it is in our moral practices. Goes on to provide an interesting argument for consent as a subjective mental state and offers an account of what that might be. Could support a lecture or seminar on consent, or would make good further reading if the topic is only touched on briefly.

Sreenivasan, Gopal, and . Disunity of Virtue

2009, Journal of Ethics 13 (2-2):195 - 212.

Abstract: This paper argues against the unity of the virtues, while trying to salvage some of its attractive aspects. I focus on the strongest argument for the unity thesis, which begins from the premise that true virtue cannot lead its possessor morally astray. I suggest that this premise presupposes the possibility of completely insulating an agent’s set of virtues from any liability to moral error. I then distinguish three conditions that separately foreclose this possibility, concentrating on the proposition that there is more to morality than virtue alone—that is, not all moral considerations are ones to which some virtue is characteristically sensitive. If the virtues are not unified, the situationist critique of virtue ethics also turns out to be more difficult to establish than some have supposed.

Comment: This paper offers a discussion of some strong objections against virtue ethics, and as such it is best used to support modules focusing on this neo-Aristotelian view. Further, it addresses problems which seem to follow from empirical research into virtues and character, which makes it particularly useful in teaching students who tend to confuse moral psychology and philosophy.

Steinbock, Bonnie, and . The Logical Case for “Wrongful Life”

1986, The Hastings Center Report 16 (2): 15-20.

Summary: In this article, Steinbock solves the logical problem with torts based on wrongful life. She argues that a wrongful life suit need not show that it would have been better for the infant to have never been born, but merely that the infant is impaired to such a degree that the infant has no capacity for fulfilling even very basic human interests. She claims that this criteria is capable of serving as the basis for a tort claim concerning the recovery of extraordinary medical care and specialized training.

Comment: This journal article would be a good addition to a course on medical ethics that covered some legal questions or questions about serverely impaired infants. Steinbock presents overviews of a number of wrongful life suits brought in the United States and provides a philosophical analysis of the possibility of the harm of being born.