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Course materials 2015/16

In week 1, we start with an introductory lecture on philosophy and politics, with particular focus on historical and contemporary philosophers whose philosophical work engages politics.

Part I: Immigration and Refugees

This part of the module engages the contemporary public debate in the UK and other European countries about immigration and refugees from a philosophical perspective. The reading list for this part of the module can be found here. This part is structured along the following central questions:

Week 2: Ought we to open all borders?

The public debate about whether and how many immigrants and refugees to admit presupposes that states and their citizens have a right to control access to their territory and to the right to visit, settle, and eventually become a citizen. The debate then focuses on which people ought to be admitted anyway, because they have a moral claim that outweighs this territorial right of states and their citizens. However, it is far from obvious whether states have any such right, and on which grounds. We examine a range of arguments for and against the claim that borders should be open to all, and that everyone, refugee or not, has a right to settle in any country of their choice.

Week 3: Who are refugees?

Even if states have a prima facie right to control access to their territory, this right might be overridden by the claims of would-be immigrants in need. In the public debate, refugees who flee from war or persecution are often distinguished from "mere" "economic refugees" or "economic migrants", with the assumption that the latter have a lesser claim to being granted asylum and rights to settlement. Likewise, the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines being a refugees on grounds of well-founded fear of persecution. We examine different arguments for and against this distinction of different kinds of would-be immigrants, and ask whether this distinction carries any normative significance for states' duties to grant asylum and rights to settlement.

Week 4: What do we owe to distant people in need?

Refugees who eventually make it to the doorsteps of affluent countries are only a minority of all people who leave their homes due to persecution, war, environmental disaster, or poverty. It seems unlikely that any moral claims of people at the doorsteps of affluent countries only come into existence once they get there. Likewise, a recurring charge in the public debate is that European countries have not done and are not doing enough to help present refugees in their countries of origin. We here ask whether, how much, and on which grounds affluent states and their citizens owe substantial assistance and redress to distant people in need.

Week 5: Who are "we" anyway?

In the public debate about immigration and refugees, we hear phrases like "We ought to" and "The UK ought to". But who is this "we"? And what does it mean that a country does or ought to do something? These questions of collective responsibility are philosophically puzzling and politically relevant: If the international community, or the European Union, ought to do something, what does it mean for individual countries? If my country ought to do something, what does it mean for me? How should the cost of performing the required action be distributed among states, regions, cities, and individuals? What ought states do when other states are not doing their share? And what ought citizens do if their state does not do its share?

Week 6: Reading week. No lecture or seminars.

Part II: Climate Change

This part of the module engages with the international debate about responding to cliamte change, using methods of political philosophy. The reading list for this part of the module can be found here. This part of the module is structured by the following questions:

Week 7: What is wrong about climate change? (1): Thinking about Climate Justice.

It is common to hear that climate change raises questions of global justice. Why might this be the case? In what way does climate change create a problem of global justice? Would non-anthropogenic climate change be a matter of global justice in the same way? And how should climate justice be considered compared with other issue of global justice? In week 7, we examine different ways of conceptualising climate change as a problem of global justice. We consider the "metric" question: what kinds of interests affected by climate change are important enough to make climate change a matter of justice. We also look at arguments for treating climate justice separately from other areas of global justice and arguments in favour of an integrated approach.

Week 8: What is wrong about climate change? (2): Intergenerational Justice.

Whilst some of the impacts of climate change are being felt now, most have yet to come. Thus climate change will affect people who will come to live in the further future: people who will be born in the next ten, twenty, fifty years. Climate change is thus thought to raise questions of intergenerational justice: what do those of us currently alive owe to future people? Can we even talk of duties to people who do not yet exist? In week 8 we examine the two main types of case for saying that there are duties of intergenerational justice: reciprocity-based accounts and subject-centred accounts.

Week 9: How to respond to climate change? (1): Distributing Responsibility.

The question of distributing responsibility has been one of the most contested issues in the international climate negotiations to date. In week 9 we shall examine some of this controversy: how responsibility was been divided in global climate policy to date and how this is changing. We shall then critically evaluate common principles for distributing responsibility and consider how accounts of fair responsibility diverge from political proposals.

Week 10. Responding to Climate Change (2): Mitigation, Adaptation and New Approaches.

In this week, we look the variety of different kinds of response to climate change. We examine the dominance of mitigation and latterly adaptation in climate discussions and consider the normative challenges that they face, including the increasing recognition of their limits. This has prompted increased interest in "climate engineering". We shall critically explore the case made for research into various "climate engineering" technologies.