Ethics and Law in Democracy

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Course DatesMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRNRegistration
June 24, 2019 - July 12, 20196/24 - 7/12M-F 12:15P-3:05POpenLowry Pressly
11148not currently available for registration

Course Description

This course will take a deep look at some of the issues facing our democracy from the perspectives of the law, ethics, and political philosophy. Though the lens of classic and contemporary texts in moral and political philosophy, judicial opinion, and current events we will examine questions like: Should a nation sell the right to immigrate? What is the proper role of money in politics? What do we mean by “equality” and why does it matter? What should we do when what is right does is not the same as what is legal in a democracy? Students will learn the fundamentals of ethical reasoning while debating the rightness of pressing matters facing our democracy.

The students will gain a familiarity with the classic texts of moral and political philosophy from Jeremy Bentham, JS Mill, Benjamin Constant, Immanuel Kant, and Aristotle. They will also engage with contemporary moral and political philosophers like Elizabeth Anderson, Tommy Shelby, and Michael Sandel, as well as prominent (and in two cases Nobel prize-winning) economists Anthony Downs, Gary Becker, and Gregory Mankiw. Finally, they will read opinions from the Supreme Court of the US, as well as state and federal courts. The goal for students to bring all these resources to bear on contemporary challenges to democracy, like: the role of money politics, employment discrimination, affirmative action, and immigration.

Concerning the instructor's background: I'm a lawyer who worked, inter alia, for a Federal appellate judge and a civil rights NGO, and am now an advanced PhD candidate in political theory at Harvard (ABD) who has won numerous university commendations for excellence in teaching, always in ethics, political philosophy, or political science.

The students should take away a basic knowledge of the fundamentals of the three most influential schools of political and ethical thought, but more than anything they should leave the course with a working knowledge and practice in ethical reasoning. A new, critical perspective on the ethical contours of contemporary political issues is another benefit.

Prerequisites: A political science background is not required, however, students should be prepared to delve into several demanding readings (ex., Kant) with a spirit of willingness, challenge and curiosity.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPS0966
  • Length: 3 weeks

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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