2023-2024 Catalog

FYS 17 What is Justice? An Idea with a History

Talk of justice has become central to the messaging of elite institutions, from liberal arts colleges, to The New York Times, large corporations, and activist organizations. Ironically, however, many of the institutions that seek to legitimate themselves through messaging about justice depend upon racialized, gendered, and classed inequalities for their operations and actively reproduce such inequalities through their core activities. This course takes students beyond such justice-messaging into a deep, historical exploration of the very idea of justice. We start in Mesopotamia, with the Code of Hammurabi, and examine attempts to grapple with and define justice from antiquity up to the present day. We read poets, philosophers, jurists, and economists, from Hesiod, Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero to Hobbes, Kant, Hayek, Rawls, and Sowell. We shall seek to understand how justice has been conceived in major religious traditions, what is meant by “social” justice, how justice relates to fairness, equality, equity, and luck, and how to distinguish among distributive, procedural, retributive, and restorative conceptions of justice. Students will leave the course better equipped to contextualize and assess the justice-talk ubiquitous to the institutions in which they have been, are, and will in the future be enmeshed. Open only to first year frosh.


4 units