GV408      Half Unit
Contemporary Disputes about Justice

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Bruno Leipold


This course is available on the MSc in Human Rights, MSc in Human Rights and Politics and MSc in Political Theory. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course has a limited number of places (it is controlled access and is capped at two groups) and demand is typically very high. Priority is given to students on the MSc in Political Theory; students from outside this programme may not get a place.


None, though some previous exposure to normative political theory may be an advantage.

Course content

The course offers a critical analysis of key debates about justice which have followed the publication of John Rawls's A Theory of Justice in 1971. The first part of the course focuses on Rawls’s own theory of justice as fairness and critiques of that theory by liberals, feminists, socialists and critical race theorists. The second part of the course explores a number of alternative accounts of justice, such as Iris Marion Young’s focus on injustice and oppression, and some of the egalitarian alternatives to Rawls’s difference principle, such as Ronald Dworkin’s equality of resources and Elizabeth Anderson’s democratic equality. The final third of the course delves into various ways in which discussions of justice have been extended and applied. This includes discussion of whether principles of domestic justice apply globally; how we should understand historical injustice and what remedies and reparations are justified in light of those injustices; and what sort of economic systems could realise the demands of justice, such as a property-owning democracy and liberal socialism, as well as discussion of specific economic institutions, such as workplace democracy and universal basic income.


This course is delivered through a combination of seminars and lectures totalling a minimum of 15 hours in the Lent Term. Some or all of this teaching may be delivered through a combination of online and on-campus lectures and seminars. There will be a reading week in week 6 of the LT for private study and formative/summative assessment preparation.

Formative coursework

All students are expected to submit one formative (non-assessed) essay.

Indicative reading

J. Rawls, A Theory of Justice; Susan Moller Okin, Justice, Gender and the Family; Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference; Elizabeth Anderson ‘What is the Point of Equality?’ Ethics; Ronald Dworkin ‘What is Equality? Part 2: Equality of Resources’, Philosophy and Public Affairs; Charles Beitz, Political Theory and International Relations; Lea Ypi, Global Justice & The Political Avant-Garde; David Miller, National Responsibility & Global Justice; Laura Valentini, Justice in a Globalized World.


Essay (100%, 4000 words).

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Student performance results

(2017/18 - 2019/20 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 26.9
Merit 56.4
Pass 15.4
Fail 1.3

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2020/21: 26

Average class size 2020/21: 13

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills