New global justice course at SFU explores the sources of today’s problems

January 07, 2016

A timely new course in SFU’s philosophy department is introducing students to the problem of global justice—uncovering the hidden ways today’s problems and power imbalances are exacerbated.

“While ours is a time of unprecedented possibilities for human progress; war, poverty and tyrannical government continue to affect the majority of the world’s citizens on a day-to-day basis,” says professor Endre Begby.

“Every day, and mostly without thinking about it, we make choices that affect the lives of people around the globe. Each of us has dozens of “employees”—many of them children—who work for us under slavery-like conditions to produce the clothes we wear, the coffee we drink and the cell phones we use to plot our plans for the weekend.”

PHIL 121 – Global Justice charts how inequities and problems originate from social, political and economic structures and proposes ways for moving forward.

Students analyze a variety of contemporary social and political challenges, including international trade, war and intervention, Aboriginal rights, gender justice and climate change.

Begby and his students “keep their ears to the ground” throughout the semester and he augments the course with “highly relevant, finger-on-the-pulse case studies” drawn from current events to help students understand important concepts.  

“For instance, this past semester, I had students read the transcripts of the parliamentary debates on extending Canada’s military intervention against ISIS into Syria,” he says. “Our discussions of moral and legal texts on war and intervention in the weeks prior gave students a whole new handle on what was going on in these discussions.

“This approach helps give students a sense that this is actually a public debate that they themselves can make important contributions to.”

Although a philosophy course, PHIL 121 takes a broad and interdisciplinary approach, giving students a one-stop introduction both to political philosophy and contemporary international politics.  

“‘Global Justice’ provides you with a lens through which to analyze complex, current world problems,” says Emily Lauman, who took the course last semester. “It can be difficult to know where to start when educating yourself on such large-scale issues, but ‘Global Justice’ offers you a starting point.”

Lauman’s classmate, Jazlyn Melnychuk, adds, “PHIL 121 really expanded my comprehension of morality and the ways in which justice is academically defended. Professor Begby really made us question how and why we identify certain acts as just or unjust, and contested certain socially accepted norms of behaviour.”

A limited number of seats are still available for this course. Students can enroll in the course through goSFU