PL535 Autumn 2008

picture of John Rawls

This is the introductory page for course PL535, Liberals and Communitarians, a course which focuses on the work of John Rawls, (left) widely regarded as the most significant political philosopher of the twentieth century whose work continues to dominate political philosophy.

Rawls passed away on November 24, 2002. There is an obituary here . Rawls was one of the subject's nice guys and his death saddened many people.

This page gives details of assessment, aims and objectives and background reading. Carefully read all the information on this page as it contains essential information.

For the rest of the course details on this site follow the quick links below:


Module Convenor: Alan Thomas

My contact details: N.04c George Allen Wing/Cornwallis Building/ School of European Culture and Languages


Go to the Web Based Discussion for PL535

My office hour: 2 p.m., Tuesday.

PL535 week by week reading;

PL535 suggested in class assignment/essay questions.


'The perspective of eternity is not a perspective from a certain place beyond the world, not the point of view of a transcendent being; rather it is a certain form of thought and feeling that rational persons can adopt within the world. And having done so, they can, whatever their generation, bring together into one scheme all individual perspectives and arrive together at regulative principles that can be affirmed by everyone as he lives by them, each from his own standpoint. Purity of heart, if one could attain it, would be to see clearly and to act with grace and self-command from this point of view', Rawls, Theory of Justice, p. 587


  Navigate this long page using these links within the page: (1) Course Schedule, (2) Course Description (3) Teaching Methods (4) Course Aims (5) Course Outcomes (6) Assessment Methods and Policies (7) Advice on Reading (8) What's In the Reading Pack? (9) The Web Based Bulletin Board


(1) General Introduction/Description

PL535 is a one semester course on the topic of liberals and communitarians. It is a natural preliminary to PL525 Political Philosophy: Analysing Political Culture.
It is a One unit, Period one module with a value of 15 credits and is a level H course.

Recent political philosophy has seen intense interest in a debate between liberal and communitarian political philosophies. While much of the debate took place in the nineteen eighties, it seemed to many people to raise fundamental issues about liberalism of timeless concern. The aim of this one semester course is to examine the debate in an attempt to clarify its terms before coming to some conclusions. After analysing the seminal liberal text which started the debate, Rawls's A Theory of Justice, we will go through the arguments of leading communitarian thinkers up to Reading Week. After Reading Week, we will focus on the non-standard forms of liberalism that have developed out of this on-going debate.

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(2) Teaching Methods 2008
This course will be taught using a lecture and small group seminars. A typical seminar will involve a general introduction to the topic by the tutor and discussion of the weekly questions set on the week by week reading either by the group as a whole or in small groups of 4 or 5.
(3) Course Aims and Objectives

Aims and Objectives. The aims of the module are

• to provide an introduction to some of the important and most influential works in recent political philosophy and hence to the main themes in this area of philosophy
• to give students a grasp of a fundamental and central body of philosophical work
• to help students think out, articulate and defend their views on some of the most important issues in philosophy
• to give students practice in formulating and expressing ideas and arguments both orally and in writing.

Students who successfully complete the module will have

• engaged in specific and in-depth analysis of issues discussed in these texts
• further developed their skills in the critical evaluation, construction and defence of philosophical ideas and arguments
• further developed their skills in written and oral presentation and argument.

This module will therefore contribute to the objectives of the Part II Philosophy programme by enabling students to develop their analytical and critical skills and to acquire familiarity with themes in the major area of political philosophy.

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(4) Course Outcomes

By the end of this course, if successfully completed, you will have grasped some of the central issues in contemporary political philosophy:

(a) You will have acquired an understanding of the distinctive features of a liberal political theory, a theory of justice and the value of community;

(b) identified the distinctively philosophical element in reflection about politics and critically engaged with them;

(c) reflected critically on the aims and ambitions of a philosophical theory of politics, such as the nature of legitimacy, defending generic theories such as liberalism, communitarianism and republicanism, the idea of a theory of and particular conceptions of justice and explored the rationales for each of these views.

You will also have acquired generic learning skills which are as follows:

Learning Skills 

During this course you will have had instruction and practice in: 

(a) Cognitive skills: 

Students who successfully complete the module will have: (i) developed their skill in philosophical analysis; (ii) engaged in philosophical argument, both oral and written; (iii) shown ability to work alone and to take responsibility for their own learning. 

(b)   Writing skills: 

Students who successfully complete the module will have: (i) developed their skills in the written presentation of their arguments in a logically structured and clear manner.

By the end of the course students will have been given the opportunity to develop, but will not receive direct tuition in, skills which will lead to: 

(c)   Literacy:

Students who successfully complete the module will have:  developed writing that ought to display at least a competent level of literacy with regard to grammar, punctuation, spelling, and composition;

(d) Use of  Information Technology:

Students who successfully complete the module will have:   word-processed their assignments; used  e-mail for access for course announcements and for group discussions (if applicable).

(e) Groupwork  (Where Applicable):

Students who successfully complete the module will have: worked with others in meeting the content course outcomes, both during class time, and outside of class through e-mail discussions.

N.B.Guidance for these latter three skills will not be provided in class; rather in cases where such skills are lacking you will be directed to the relevant places within the University (e.g., the library and in the study-skills centre)

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(5) Assessment 2008


The assessment for this course consists of a 10 per cent mark for seminar contribution (not attendance, although clearly if you do not attend you cannot contribute) a 45 per cent mark for an in-class assignment and a 45 per cent mark for an essay of 2 500 words. (Follow this link for the list of questions for both the in-class assignment and the essay.) I include as 'seminar contributions' questions/discussions over e-mail or in office hour, or messages posted to the web based discussion board. (Note: this board is private posting area and only members of the course can post to it).


Your Writing Week, during which you will prepare your essay, is in sixth week, November 3rd - November 7th inclusive. Your first assignment is the essay, which must be handed in by 12 noon on Friday, November 7th .


The in-class assignment will be held in the seminar slots in week twelve, that is on Thursday 18th December, in your usual seminar room. Students are expected to prepare in advance for the in-class assignment. The assignment will consist of a written answer to one of the questions here i.e. the same list of questions as for the essays. You may not do both your essay and your written assignment on the same topic. The assignment lasts for 50 minutes.

Please tell me in advance if you are entitled to extra time in examinations/in class assignments. Given that we only have a room available for an hour, special arrangements will have to be made in week twelve if you need extra time.

The philosophy section has standard policies about assessment that are as follows:

Different modules have different assessment methods. But every module implements the same policy on: (1) anonymising essays in Part Two; (2) receipt of essays; (3) Late receipt of essays; (4) failure to attend an in-class assignment; (5) marking criteria; (6) viva voce examinations and (7) plagiarism.

(1) Anonymising essays in Part Two only: Anonymity. Essays and in-class assignments must be handed in anonymously. For in-class assignments, write your examination number (not your name and not your student number) on the front of the booklet in which you write your answer. For essays, write your examination number on the cover sheet and on the duplicate copy of your essay (see below). Your work will be marked anonymously and numbers matched up with names only after you have been informed of your marks. At that point any adjustments will be made if you are part of an inclusive learning plan.

(2) Submission of essays: Your assignment should be word-processed on single sides of A4, double- spaced, 12 font, with full references, if any, (including properly cited Web sources). A word count should appear on the essay. You must submit TWO PAPER copies of your end-of-term essay. If a second copy is not handed in, you will get back only the cover sheet with marks and comments (if any), as one copy must be kept for the department's records so that they can be consulted by the external examiner at any time. The two copies of the essay must be submitted to the SECL essay box in the Cornwallis building, CNW113. You must also submit a THIRD COPY of the essay by email to this e-mail address:
Please send your essay only from your Kent e-mail address and use the module code as your 'subject' heading for your e-mail. The code for this module is PL535.

You will receive an acknowledgement, by e-mail, that the electronic copy of your essay has been received. You are strongly advised to print out this e-mail acknowledgement and to keep it in a safe place. With the hard copies of the essay you must submit a cover sheet, which can be downloaded from the 'Resources' section of the Philosophy web pages. You must sign the cover sheet to confirm that you have followed the University regulations concerning plagiarism, and that you have submitted an electronic version of the essay.

(3) Late receipt of essays: Essays that are submitted late will be given a mark of 0, unless you have explicitly been given permission BEFORE THE DEADLINE to submit the essay late and have a good reason (such as illness) for doing so. NO EXTENSION CAN BE GIVEN FOR SUBMISSION AFTER THE END OF TERM, AND ANY ESSAY SUBMITTED AFTER THAT WILL BE GIVEN A MARK OF 0. If you miss the deadline and you think that there are mitigating factors such as illness that should be taken into account, you should submit a Concessions Case via the Humanities Faculty Office.

(4) Failure to attend an in-class assignment: The deadline for the in-class assignment is the appointed day and time of the in-class assignment itself. It is the policy of the Philosophy Board of Studies that anyone who misses the in-class assignment without prior permission from the module convenor will normally receive a mark of 0. Reasons for which permission may be granted to miss the assignment must be very serious reasons e.g. serious accident, illness, or bereavement. PERMISSION TO MISS AN IN-CLASS ASSIGNMENT WILL BE GRANTED ONLY IF THE STUDENT SIMULTANEOUSLY AGREES AN ALTERNATIVE TIME TO SIT THE ASSIGNMENT WITH THE MODULE CONVENOR. If you miss the in-class assignment without permission and you think that there are mitigating factors such as illness that should be taken into account, you should submit a Concessions Case via the Humanities Faculty Office.

(5) Marking criteria: Below are the marking criteria that have been approved by the School of European Culture and Languages.

0-39 (Fail) No evidence of serious engagement with the topic. The student shows little engagement with material from the primary text or from the class lectures and discussions.

40-49 (Third) Basic knowledge of the material, though with some serious Deficiencies of understanding. The student shows some evidence of having worked through the reading and of having attended lectures but fails to grasp important issues.

50-59 (2.ii) Good knowledge and understanding of the issues (though there may be some errors or confusions on particular points). The student shows clear evidence of having worked through the text in the light of class lectures and discussions but has not grasped some of the essential points or is not presenting the material in an independent fashion.

60-69 (2.i) Good knowledge and understanding of the issues. Substantial evidence of independent thought and judgement, with arguments that are clearly presented and well structured. The student shows ample evidence of having worked through the text in the light of class lectures and discussions and shows a solid grasp of the material.

70+ (First) A full knowledge and understanding of the issues, and a sustained original argument, clearly presented and well structured. The student shows not only ample evidence of having worked through the text in the light of class lectures and discussions but also shows the ability to assimilate the material with other sections or topics, showing clear signs of independent thinking.

(6) Viva voce examinations: “As in other Philosophy modules, the course convenor has the right to call any student in for a viva voce examination on the coursework essay that he or she has handed in. The aim of the viva is to enable the assessors (the course convenor and one other moderater) to determine to what extent the student has assimilated and understood the material presented in a piece of work. A mark will be awarded for the piece of work in the light of the evidence provided by the viva of how far the student has understood and assimilated the material.

(7) Plagiarism: From the Induction Booklet for Philosophy Students: One reason why you need to be scrupulous about acknowledging your sources is that if you copy a passage from another writer and include it in your essay without acknowledging it, you are likely to deceive the reader into thinking that you wrote it yourself. This is called ‘plagiarising’. The Humanities Faculty’s formal definition of plagiarism is as follows: Plagiarism is the act of presenting the ideas or discoveries of another as one’s own. To copy sentences, phrases or even striking expressions without acknowledgement in a manner, which may deceive the reader as to the source, is plagiarism; to paraphrase in a manner, which may deceive the reader, is likewise plagiarism. Where such copying or close paraphrase has occurred the mere mention of the source in a bibliography will not be deemed sufficient acknowledgement; in each such instance it must be referred specifically to its source. Verbatim quotations must be directly acknowledged either in inverted commas or by indenting. The University takes a serious view of plagiarism and imposes severe penalties when it occurs in coursework, dissertations, projects or examinations. NOTE: You risk jeopardising your chances of receiving a degree. If you feel a need for further guidance on this, you should consult your tutor or seminar leader.


See the Induction Booklet for general advice on references and bibliographies.

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(6) General Reading

You must, to understand the issues raised in this course, make yourselves familiar with Rawls's seminal works:

John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971)

Templeman Library Information for TJ:

4 copies held; classmark HM216

3 on Canterbury campus, one Medway. One short loan two in main collection.

John Rawls, Political Liberalism, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993)

Templeman Library Information for PL:

2 copies held; classmark HM216; both in short loan.

A Theory of Justice is a long book, but Rawls supplies a plan for working through it in his "Preface". My advice is to read Part One very carefully; then read Part Three. Read Part Two as and when you can. But do read it all by the end of the course. This was the most important work of political philosophy produced in the twentieth century.

A useful guide to Rawls's earlier work and the debates it caused is:

Kukathas and Pettit, A Theory of Justice and Its Critics, (Oxord: Blackwells, 1991)

Templeman Library Information for Kukathas and Pettit:

2 copies held, classmark HM216, one short loan, one in main collection.

The best general guide to the liberalism/communitarianism issue is the Second Edition of:

Stephen Mulhall and Adam Swift, Liberals and Communitarians, Blackwells [Referred to in the Reading Lists on this site as 'Mulhall and Swift' followed by chapter number].

Templeman Library Information for Swift and Mulhall:

3 copies held; classmark JC578; One short loan; one one week loan; one ordinary loan.

If you want to regard any book on this course as a "textbook", Mulhall and Swift is it!

There are two good anthologies about Rawls's work:

The Cambridge Companion to Rawls, edited by Samuel Freeman, (Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Templeman Library Information for Cambridge Companion:

2 copies held; classmark JC 251.R32; one one week loan, one ordinary loan.

Reading Rawls, edited by Norman Daniels, (New York, Basic Books, 1975)

Templeman Library Information for Daniels Anthology:

2 copies held; classmark HM216; main collection.

Invariably, over the twelve weeks people want to know what I think on these issues, on which see chapters 11 and 12 of Value and Context, (Oxford University Press, 2006) that will (undoubtedly) find its way into the Templeman at some point. You can also access it at Oxford Scholarship Online via the online resources section of the Templeman home page.

There is a sensible and reliable on-line resource for Rawls's work here.

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(7) What Is In the Reading Pack?

Alisa Carse, The Liberal Individual; Ronald Dworkin, Liberalism; Ronald Dworkin, Liberal Community; Ronald Dworkin, Justice for Hedgehogs; John Gray, Agonistic Liberalism; John Gray, Enlightenment's Wake; Amy Guttman, Communitarian Critics of Liberalism; Charles Larmore, The Limits of Neo-Aristotelianism; Alasdair McIntyre, Justice as a Virtue: Changing Conceptions; Thomas Nagel; Rawls on Justice; Thomas Nagel, Moral Conflict and Political Legitimacy; Philip Pettit, For Holism, Against Atomism; Joseph Raz, Neutral Political Concern, Liberty and Rights, Freedom and Autonomy; Joseph Raz, Facing Diversity: the Case of Epistemic Abstinence; Richard Rorty, Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism; Richard Rorty, The Priority of Democracy to Philosophy; Alan Thomas, Liberal Republicanism and the Role of Civil Society; Michael Walzer, Philosophy and Democracy; Michael Walzer,The Communitarian Critique of Liberalism; Michael Walzer, Liberalism and the Art of Separation.

(8) The Web Based Bulletin (Discussion) Board

As you know, you are supposed to work ten hours a week for each course. Your contact with me is two hours a week. That is a lot of time when you take responsibility for your own studies; it would be good if, during that time, you could learn from the people around you. An obvious group to consult are the other students on the course. That is the motivation for setting up a web based bulletin board for this course. I will take any contributions you make to that board into account when calculating your oral contribution mark, but that does not mean that I am assessing the comments: I am assessing your enthusiasm and commitment. So I hope you will feel free to post to this board if there are issues that come up in your study where you are unsure of something, don't understand, and want help from your peers and from me. I will certainly visit and read the board but it is not my job to 'evaluate' what is on it; I will try and be, like everyone else, helpful!

By logging on, you consent to follow these university rules and, in addition, I reserve the right to remove any post at any time at my sole discretion.

You can access the board here. You will see, in the left hand margin, all the help files to help you get started under 'Documentation'. They are there to assist with any issues that come up with your use of the Board. (Kent computing will not be able to help you.)


Click here to go to the week by week reading list

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Copyright a.p.thomas 2008

Version 4.0 of this page produced 20/09/2008