Classy Classes: POLISCI 336: “Introduction to Global Justice”

May 19, 2016, 11:48 p.m.

POLISCI 336: “Introduction to Global Justice,” taught by Prithviraj Datta, a post-doctoral researcher in Ethics in Society, offers students the opportunity to investigate core ethical issues in the realm of international politics.

The course is split into three distinct sections. Students first explore the content of global justice, then zoom into the obligations global justice creates in areas such as global poverty, climate change, immigration, warfare and the well-being of women. The course ends by examining the question of whether a democratic international order is needed in order to reach global justice.

“The way the class works is we read essays and come to class and debate the pros and cons of those philosophical positions,” said Grace Hultquist ’16. “We then typically apply those to real-world situations.”

In a recent class, Datta focused on the justice and well-being of women. The lecture portion of the class centered on a comparison of two American philosophers, Martha Nussbaum and John Rawls. Throughout the class, Datta presented Rawls’ opinions and Nussbaum’s counterarguments.

For example, Rawls found that state action to ensure that women get fair treatment is entirely just, but rejected the idea that liberal states could intervene in the practices of illiberal ones to improve the rights of women.  Nussbaum criticizes this approach, highlighting that Rawls switches from using individuals as units of justice to treating states as units of justice. She instead argues that liberal states can spur change in illiberal states through mechanisms that do not involve violence or invasion, such as drawing up international treaties or creating trade incentives.

Datta then asked the class why this issue was a problem of global justice. He noted how women in the world are extremely disempowered and are often held back from reaching their true potential. Datta argued that the United States must not only investigate its own institutions, but also care about how more patriarchal states treat their women.

The feedback on the class has been positive.

“This class has been a really great outlet to talk about global justice issues that are so prevalent in our society, but to look at them from a theoretical, more philosophical standpoint,” said Sophie Fisher ’19. “It has definitely challenged a lot of my views on what is just and why, and has really made me think deeply about the extent of my own duty to the rest of the world.”

Fisher further noted the value she received from the discussions in class, explaining how the comments of her peers as well as her own thoughts served to challenge and add on to the works the class was reading. The discussion section of the class has also encouraged her to speak up, helping her feel more engaged and active.

Hultquist agreed that the class serves as a way to challenge people’s preconceptions about global justice. She explained how the class helped her rethink her position on helping others globally.

“My intuition coming into the class was that, obviously, people have a moral obligation to help as many people around the world as they can,” Hultquist said. “A lot of the readings we have read have challenged that assumption, bringing up the issue that blindly giving aid to other countries doesn’t always do what is intended. [The class] has given me a much more nuanced perspective on what I thought was a very obvious question.”


Contact Pascale Elisabeth Eenkema van Dijk at [email protected].

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