GV4D7      Half Unit
Dilemmas of Equality

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Sarah Goff


This course is available on the MSc in Gender, MSc in Gender, Development and Globalisation, MSc in Gender, Policy and Inequalities, MSc in Human Rights, MSc in Human Rights and Politics, MSc in Inequalities and Social Science 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 demand is typically high. Priority is given to students in the MSc Political Theory programme, and students from outside this programme may not get a place.

This course is capped at 2 groups.

Course content

The course starts with the general questions of why equality matters and what is to be equalized. It then introduces some of the major debates in the contemporary egalitarian literature: equality of opportunity versus equality of outcome; luck egalitarianism versus relational equality; and equality versus sufficiency. Throughout the course, and particularly in the latter half, we consider concrete social problems and dilemmas faced by those who are committed to the ideal of equality. Topics covered this year include discrimination and policies that aim to reduce inequalities between social groups.


This course is delivered through a combination of seminars and lectures totalling a minimum of 20 hours in the Autumn Term.

There will be a reading week in Week 6 of the AT for private study and assessment preparation.

Formative coursework

Students will submit a short formative essay (up to 1500 words) and will be given feedback on this before submitting their assessed coursework.

Indicative reading

Samantha Brennan, 'Feminist Ethics and Everyday Inequalities' Hypatia 24, 2009;  Derek Parfit, 'Equality and Priority' Ratio 10, 1997;  Ronald Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality (Harvard University Press, 2000);  Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom (Oxford University Press, 1999);  Elizabeth Anderson, 'What is the Point of Equality?' Ethics 109, 1999;  Harry Frankfurt, ‘The Moral Irrelevance of Equality’ Public Affairs Quarterly (2000);  and Deborah Hellman, When is Discrimination Wrong? (Harvard University Press, 2011).


Essay (100%, 4500 words).

Student performance results

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 21.3
Merit 68.1
Pass 8.5
Fail 2.1

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2022/23: 24

Average class size 2022/23: 13

Controlled access 2022/23: Yes

Lecture capture used 2022/23: Yes (MT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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.

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication