Law, Ethics, and Democracy

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
June 28, 2021 - August 11, 20216/28 - 8/116 WeeksOnlineOpenOnlineDavid Pressly

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. Through the lens of classic and contemporary texts in moral and political philosophy, judicial opinion, and current events we will examine questions like: How should a nation decide who gets to immigrate? What is the proper role of money in politics? Are there any justifiable limits to free speech on college campuses? What do we mean by “equality,” or "justice," and why does it matter? What should we do when what is right 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.

Students will gain a familiarity with the classic texts of moral and political philosophy from Jeremy Bentham, JS Mill, Benjamin Constant, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant, and Aristotle. Students will read the writings of contemporary moral and political philosophers such as Elizabeth Anderson, Tommie Shelby, and Michael Sandel, as well as prominent economists and cultural critics. Finally, the class will read opinions from the Supreme Court of the United States, as well as state and federal courts. The goal for students is to bring all these resources to bear on contemporary challenges to democracy, like: the role of money politics, employment discrimination, free speech debates, affirmative action, and immigration.

Students will gain a basic knowledge of the fundamentals of the 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 that will enable them to engage more deeply and sharply in contemporary ethical debates. The final presentation and research will provide students with research skills and helpful tips crucial for success in college. A new, critical perspective on the ethical contours of the political issues facing modern democracies is another benefit. The course instructor is an attorney who has worked for a Federal appellate judge, a civil rights NGO, and as an advisor to governments, and is now a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Political Theory at Brown University.

Prerequisites: There are no prerequisites for this course. However, students should be prepared to delve into challenging readings with a spirit of willingness, collaboration, and curiosity.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPS0966

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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