PHIL 320 Social and Political Philosophy: Liberty and Punishment

Fall Semester 2012 | Day | Burnaby


INSTRUCTOR: S. Black, WMC 5608


This is an intermediate level course in political philosophy. It examines two independent topics. We begin with a survey of the different accounts of what liberty is and why liberty is important. We proceed to examine the different justifications given for punishment and depriving people of their liberty. These topics are independent in the sense that achieving a better understanding of the meaning of liberty may not provide greater traction on evaluating the case for or against punishing people.

The Miller anthology includes some of the most influential recent papers on the nature of liberty. The Boonin text is up to date and is generously footnoted. We will use it to provide an overview of contemporary theories of punishment. The Zimmerman book provocatively develops the argument that there is no justification for punishment. I will occasionally supplement these texts with other materials which students will be asked to download from the Library.

Students should expect to read about 2-3 papers or chapters per week.


  • One three hour lecture per week.


  • David Boonin, The Problem of Punishment, (Cambridge UP, 2008)
  • Michael Zimmerman, The Immorality of Punishment (Broadview 2011)
  • David Miller (Ed.), The Liberty Reader (Paradigm 2006)
  • various PDF downloads from the library collection
  • Useful Text: Ted Honderich, Punishment: The Supposed Justifications (many editions, originally published in 1969)


  • Three Short Assignments 30% (with the best two papers counting for 30%)
  • One 2500 word paper 40 %
  • One final exam 30%

This course is excellent preparation for law school. It also counts towards the prestigious Certificate in Ethics (please see department web site for more information about the Certificate).

No Nonsense Paper Policy In the interest of preserving a level playing field students submitting late papers without prior arrangement or a doctor's note will be penalized. Students caught plagiarizing or otherwise cheating will normally be recommended for suspension from the university.

NOTE: Prerequisite: Phil 120 or 220.