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NATIONAL QUALIFICATIONS CURRICULUM SUPPORT
Philosophy
Social Philosophy

[ADVANCED HIGHER]





Acknowledgements

Learning and Teaching Scotland gratefully acknowledge this contribution to the National Qualifications support programme for Philosophy.


First published 2002

Electronic version 2002


© Learning and Teaching Scotland 2002
This publication may be reproduced in whole or in part for educational purposes by educational establishments in Scotland provided that no profit accrues at any stage.
ISBN 1 85955 925 5


contents


Section 1: Staff introduction 1
Section 2: Student information 3

Section 3: Theories of justice

Introduction 5

Plato 6

John Rawls 12



Robert Nozick 18

Student activities 25


Section 4: Human rights

Introduction 27

John Locke 28

Jeremy Bentham 33

Karl Marx 36

Student activities 40




Section 5: Further reading 41


SECTION 1




Staff introduction
Overall, this unit introduces many new concepts that will be unfamiliar to students who have completed the Higher. This should not daunt them, however, as issues of justice and rights are more accessible, and seem to have more practical importance than some other areas of philosophy. While justice was not dealt with in any depth in the Higher Philosophy course, students will be familiar with some of Plato’s arguments from the Republic from their study of his work in the Classic Texts in Philosophy unit. A familiarity with his style will certainly aid comprehension of his somewhat abstract views on justice. Again, Plato’s views on justice are somewhat more accessible than some other parts of his philosophy.
More generally, students may already have encountered basic issues of equality and liberty in the Moral and Social Philosophy option in the Problems in Philosophy unit at Higher level. They may also have discussed if, and how, the redistribution of wealth should be undertaken. All of this knowledge will serve as a useful foundation for the justice theories of Nozick and Rawls.
Equality and liberty are also of obvious relevance to the human rights section of this unit. Students may have considered liberty rights in the Higher course; this, combined with the general high awareness of human rights issues today, will provide a good base of knowledge that will aid consideration of the key issues at Advanced Higher.
The two main areas of study in this unit have a clear degree of overlap, and it will be useful to consider the relationship between conceptions of justice and conceptions of human rights.
Areas of study:
• What is justice?

• Plato’s Theory, Rawls’ Two Principles of Justice and Nozick’s Entitlement Theory

• The nature of human rights

• Locke’s Natural Rights, and Bentham’s and Marx’s criticisms of natural rights.


By the end of this unit students should be able to:
• explain Plato’s, Rawls’ and Nozick’s conceptions of justice, and analyse them;

• describe in detail the historical and philosophical background of human rights;

• show knowledge of Locke’s views and Bentham’s and Marx’s criticisms;

• analyse the view that there are moral, inalienable, irrevocable human rights.




SECTION 2



Student information

This unit builds on the knowledge already acquired by students who have completed Classic Texts in Philosophy and the relevant option of Problems in Philosophy units at Higher level. While you have not yet encountered his views on justice, you have already studied some of Plato’s Republic, and his theory of justice which forms part of this unit is also in that text. You will see how Plato’s views on justice fit with the rest of his philosophy.


More directly, you may already have touched on issues of justice and human rights in the Moral and Social Philosophy option of the Problems in Philosophy unit. At Higher level you considered the conflict between liberty and equality, which lies at the root of contemporary debate about justice. You may also have studied the theory that wealth should be redistributed in order to make everyone equal. Both of these issues are dealt with by the two contemporary political philosophers you will study in this unit.
In relation to human rights, you may have encountered the idea that all individuals should have equal rights; this is the foundation of modern human rights theory. In this unit you will study in much greater depth the concept of human (or natural) rights, and attempt to determine if there is any sound basis to the notion.
Areas of study:
• What is justice?

• Plato’s Theory, Rawls’ Two Principles of Justice and Nozick’s Entitlement Theory

• The nature of human rights

• Locke’s Natural Rights, and Bentham’s and Marx’s criticisms of natural rights.


By the end of this unit you should be able to:
• explain Plato’s, Rawls’ and Nozick’s conceptions of justice, and analyse them;

• describe in detail the historical and philosophical background of human rights;

• show knowledge of Locke’s views and Bentham’s and Marx’s criticisms;

• analyse the view that there are moral, inalienable, irrevocable human rights.


SECTION 3



Theories of justice




Introduction

What is justice? This is a question that has concerned great thinkers since the discipline of philosophy began in Greece 2,700 years ago. Perhaps the oldest definition of justice is that attributed by Plato to the ancient poet Simonides: ‘Justice is the constant and perpetual will of rendering to everyone his due.’ This was later formalised by Ulpian, a Roman juror. This definition, though, does not help us establish exactly what ‘one’s due’ is, or tell us how we should establish it.


Normally when people talk about ‘justice’ they mean ‘making sure that criminals get what they deserve’. This is certainly one concern of justice: it is known as retributive justice. This is an important issue but philosophical debate has centred more on distributive justice. A theory of distributive justice attempts to answer several questions:
• What is the best way to distribute a society’s resources?

• Should the riches of the wealthy be redistributed to the poor?

• Is an equal society the best possible society?

• What exactly do we mean by equality?

• Is unjust treatment ever justifiable?
Unsurprisingly, there are many different answers to each of these questions. We will be looking at three great theoreticians of justice: the pre-eminent Greek philosopher Plato, and two contemporary political philosophers, John Rawls and Robert Nozick.
Plato’s theory is somewhat different from those of the two modern philosophers: it is more to do with the well-ordering of the state than actual distributions (although distributions are of course important for a well-functioning state). He attempts to explain justice in terms of the relation between different sections of society. Rawls argues for a conception of ‘justice as fairness’, and Nozick offers a theory of justice as entitlement, as well as some insightful criticisms of Rawls. By the end of this section of the unit, we should be some way towards answering these great questions.




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