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Thinking about Politics: Freedom, Equality, and Justice


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

None, but successful completion of at least one of the 100-level core courses of the World Politics Major is strongly recommended.


This is an advanced level seminar course which aims to focus on certain schools of thought in contemporary political philosophy. The objective of this course is to think deeply about what a justice might look like by thinking about concepts like justice, fairness, equality, freedom, power, domination and oppression. We will start with a rather thorough study of a discussion within the broadly liberal-egalitarian tradition of thought about distributive justice. That discussion (involving such authors as Rawls, Arneson, Sen, and Nussbaum) focusses on the question “Equality of what?” — what do liberally just societies owe to their members?

We then turn to alternative ways of thinking about justice. This includes libertarianism, communitarianism, republicanism and feminist and post-colonial viewpoints. In our examination, we will concentrate on specific thinkers as representatives of each school of thought and interrogate primary texts, rather than only sketching the general arguments of each strand.

By the end of this seminar, you will have a good sense of what the real controversies within the philosophy of justice are about and be able to formulate and defend your views on the subject

Course Objectives

After completing this module, students will have acquired: 

  • A broad understanding of debates about distributive justice in contemporary political philosophy.

  • Knowledge of the most influential competing approaches to distributive justice and the ability to reason about the normative commitments connected to these approaches.

  • Will have developed a better insight on how major theoretical strands in contemporary political philosophy understand the scope of politics and its relation to major concepts such as power, freedom, equality and justice.

  • An improved understanding of the methodology of political philosophy, including normative reasoning, conceptual analysis, the use of thought experiments, and critical and logical thinking.

  • Practical knowledge of how to write a well-structured essay that manages to state a thesis supported by arguments.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2023-2024 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

Lectures, in-class discussions, student presentations, online assignments.

Students will participate in group discussions and are expected to exchange ideas. The aim of the classes and our discussions is to help us all better understand the arguments/positions we discuss in order to raise important topics for further discussion and develop our analytical skills.

Assessment Method

Assessment takes the following form:

  • End-of-term paper of max. 2000 words (40%)

  • Mid-term paper of max. 1000 words (35%)

  • Group presentation (10%)

  • Individual class preparation exercises (x 5) (Each exercise counts 3%, for a total of 15%)

Reading list

Required readings are below. A full list of suggested readings will be available in the syllabus. The weblinks to the required readings will be provided on Brightspace.

  • John Rawls – A Theory of Justice Boston, Harvard University Press (p.47-81)

  • Richard Arneson, 1989. “Equality and Equal Opportunity for Welfare.” Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition Vol. 56, No. 1, pp. 77-93

  • Robert Nozick. 1974. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York, NY: Basic Books. pp.
    149-164, 167-182, 235-238.

  • Sen, Amartya. “Justice: Means versus Freedoms.” Philosophy & Public Affairs 19, no. 2 (1990): 111–21.

  • Nussbaum, Martha C. “Capabilities as Fundamental Entitlements: Sen and Social Justice.” Feminist Economics 9, no. 2–3 (2003): 33–59.

  • Anderson, Elizabeth S. “What Is the Point of Equality?” Ethics 109, no. 2 (1999): 287–337.

  • Young, Iris Marion. “Five Faces of Oppression.” In Justice and the Politics of Difference, 39–65. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.

  • Fraser, Nancy. “Social Justice in the Age of Identity Politics: Redistribution, Recognition, and Participation.” In Culture and Economy after the Cultural Turn, edited by Larry Ray and Andrew Sayer, 25–52. SAGE Publications Ltd, 1999.

  • Philip Pettit. 1996. “Freedom as Anti-Power.” Ethics. 106:3. pp. 576-604.

  • Tommie Shelby, 2004. "Race and Ethnicity, Race and Social Justice: Rawlsian Considerations" Fordham Law Review. Vol 72 (5): 1697-1714

  • Charles Mills, 2013. “Retrieving Rawls for Racial Justice? A Critique of Tommie Shelby” Critical Philosophy of Race, Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 1-27

  • Catherine Lu, 2011. “Colonialism as Structural Injustice: Historical Responsibility and Contemporary Redress” The Journal of Political Philosophy 19(3):261-281


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Gerrit Schaafsma,