I teach courses primarily in political philosophy focused on human rights, labor rights, and racial justice. In my work with the Pozen Family Center, I have contributed to the development of human rights curriculum. What follows are a close look at three courses. The first is a two-quarter long interdisciplinary core course introducing students to concepts of human rights almost entirely through primary texts; the second delves deeper into the philosophical foundations of human rights; and the third is a course on labor rights and justice for workers.
Human Rights in World Civilizations
This two-quarter long course was designed by over 20 faculty members across the social sciences and humanities at the University of Chicago, showcasing the broad and humanistic approach to human rights that is the hallmark of the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights. I played a leading role in that process and have directed the sequences over the last five years, redesigning the syllabus with each iteration. The course introduces human rights to students by exploring how human rights have been constructed across transnational, imperial, national, and local spaces in a variety of idioms while exposing students to their contested genealogies and limits. It draws on history, philosophy, and rhetoric of human rights through a variety of disciplinary lenses. The sequence is primary source driven and discussion based, with readings drawn from a range of texts from political philosophy, or international treaties, to novels and films. The course is structured around two-week long units, some historically organized (e.g. human rights around 1948, human rights in the 1970’s), and others thematically organized around a concept or question (e.g. testimony and bearing witness to atrocity, or human rights and migration).
The Philosophical Foundation of Human Rights
In this class we explore the philosophical foundations of human rights, investigating theories of how our shared humanity in the context of an interdependent world gives rise to obligations of justice. In the first weeks of the course, we ask what rights are, how they are distinguished from other part of morality, and what role they play in our social and political life. But rights come in many varieties, and we are interested in human rights in particular. In later weeks, we ask what makes something a human right, and how are human rights different from other kinds of rights. We consider a number of contemporary philosophers (and one historian) who attempt to answer this question, including James Griffin, Joseph Raz, John Rawls, John Tasioulas, Samuel Moyn, Jiewuh Song, and Martha Nussbaum. Throughout we will ask questions such as, “What makes something a human right?” “What role does human dignity play in grounding our human rights?” “Are human rights historical?” “What role does the nation and the individual play in our account of human rights?” “When can one nation legitimately intervene in the affairs of another nation?” “How can we respect the demands of justice while also respecting cultural difference?” “How do human rights relate to global inequality and markets?”
Justice at Work
This course combines economic theory (the theory of the firm), legal theory (labor law), and labor history, with political philosophy to examine questions of justice for workers that are often ignored in academic political philosophy. The course begins by considering very basic questions from economic theory, including what markets are, and why production in the economy is organized through firms, and what economists have to say about why firms are arranged so hierarchically. Given this background, we next turns to consider injustices at the work, including worker domination, exploitation, and the casualization of employment. We consider responses including universal basic income that decouples access to goods from work; worker organization and resistance through the labor movement and tools such as collective bargaining; and finally, the reorganization of the economy to foster either shared control over firms or worker cooperatives. Along the way we consider the right to strike, the connection of race and labor, and different visions of a more just future for workers.