Philosophy 400: Undergraduate Seminar in Democratic Theory

Mark van Roojen

1005 Oldfather Hall


Office Hours: TBA

CLASS PURPOSE: The point of the undergraduate seminar is to give undergraduates a sense of what a graduate class in philosophy might be like, without requiring you to compete for attention with more experienced graduate students. Hence, functioning of the class is more the responsibility of class members than is typical for undergraduate classes, and the ratio of participant discussion to instructor lecture will be somewhat higher.

The particular subject matter of this version of the seminar is recent work in democratic theory. Two of the main questions that will organize our thinking are (1) What is democracy, and (2) what is good about it? Since Cass Sunstein will be the Law School's Pound lecturer this year and will also giving a paper to the department towards the end of the term, we will be reading some of his work to enable class members to interact with him with a bit of background knowledge of his views.

CLASS FORMAT: The class will be a combined lecture and discussion format. At some point during the semester students will give a presentation, and discuss the content of that paper with other students/

COURSE REQUIREMENTS: Two papers (7-8 pages long), a presentation of about 10 minutes, and a response to another student's presentation of about 5 minutes. Typically the presentation and response will be followed by some questions and discussion by members of the class. The presentations can be the basis for one of the papers.

GRADING: The two papers will be equally weighted and will together count for approximately 85% of the grade. The remaining 15% will depend on the presentation and response.


John Stuart Mill, Considerations on Representative Government,

John Hart Ely, Democracy and Distrust,

John Rawls, Political Liberalism,

Cass Sunstein, Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech,

Lani Guinier, The Tyranny of the Majority.

The remaining readings will be available from me or through the office. Since some of the sessions in the final weeks of the class will be determined by your choices of what to present, some of that will have to be done on a seat of the pants basis.



Mill's Compromise. (Read: Considerations on Representative Government, chapters 3, 5-8, 10 & 15.)

Ely's Democracy as Interest Representation. (Read: Democracy and Distrust, chapters 4-6 & conclusion:)

Background for Rawls' Political Liberalism. (Read A Theory of Justice chapters VIII & IX, and Scanlon, "Utilitarianism and Contractarianism.")

Rawls's Political Liberalism. (Read Political Liberalism, Lectures I, II IV & VI.)

Assessing Rawls's Political Liberalism. (Read Joshua Cohen, "A More Democratic Liberalism" & Brian Barry, "John Rawls and the Search for Stability.")

Cohen's Deliberative Democracy. (Read Cohen, "Democratic Equality," "Deliberation and Democratic Legitimacy," & "The Economic Basis of Deliberative Democracy.")

Majority rule, minority rights, and the problem of representation. (Readings here might be taken from Guinier's The Tyranny of the Majority.)

Sunstein's theory of deliberative democracy and constitutional interpretation. (Most of the reading for this might be taken from his Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech.)

Habermas's Communicative Ethics (I need to find a reading here that I once had.)

For this syllabus we might devote the last several weeks to student presentations on readings you find yourself.