Political Theory Project

Sample Courses

Students in classroomAbout PTP Course Offerings

The PTP has four core faculty members who teach each semester. Their courses are offered in Political Science and Economics. 

Each semester the PTP's faculty and postdoctoral research associates teach a diverse offering of courses so that undergraduates at Brown have the opportunity to engage in study at the intersections of Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. Postdoctoral research associates teach courses in their respective field, and past offerings have included Philosophy, Political Science, Economics, and History. 

Current Course Offerings

What is prosperity? Whom does prosperity benefit? Which institutions and attitudes produce prosperity? What is the relation of prosperity to other values such as efficiency, happiness, equality, fairness, religious faith or personal freedom? This course explores the problem of prosperity from a variety of disciplinary perspectives: philosophical, economic, historical, religious, and literary.

Course Syllabus

What is libertarianism? In what sense can libertarians claim to combine the best of the “right” with the best of the “left?” Why do libertarians emphasize private property? Why are they skeptical of political agency? Are libertarians anti-democratic? Can they care about social justice? How do libertarians approach problems such as racism, sexism, militarism, state surveillance, global inequality, and environmental sustainability? This course will explore such questions, as illuminated by a variety of texts in the libertarian tradition, classical and contemporary.

Course Syllabus

Market democracy is a political philosophy that combines concern for social justice with concern for private economic liberty, a fusion of left and right ideologies in which governments and societies do not need to choose between social justice and economic freedom, but to strongly endorse both. Class discussions will focus on how to apply this model at the public policy level in Chile by examining a variety of texts in the libertarian tradition, classical and contemporary from both North and South American perspectives.

Course Syllabus

Slow economic growth, controversial policy, and over a decade of continuous war have led many to question the extent to which government is a force for the common good. Blame is often assigned to specific politicians or ideological perspectives. Public choice economics instead analyzes the incentive structure within which political decisions take place, seeking to uncover the forces guiding the behavior of voters, legislators, judges, and other political agents. This course will examine the insights and limitations of the public choice perspective in the context of electoral politics, legislation, bureaucracy and regulation, and constitutional rules.

Course Syllabus

This course covers major debates in the 20th century political economy, starting with the Bolshevik Revolution and the Treatise of Versailles. We examine the Great Depression, the New Deal, and Postwar economic planning in the US and UK. We then turn to consider important periods in the second half of the 20th century, including Indian Economic Planning, Bretton Woods, and inflation in the 1970s. The course ends with a consideration of trade, trade deficits, sovereign debt crises, and austerity. The aim is to develop an understanding of both sides of key debates in political economy.

Course Syllabus

This course covers the history of economics and economic thinking from foundational classical ideas, to the marginal revolution, and through the first half of the 20th century. We will begin by examining some classical precursors before turning to the marginal revolution and development of neoclassical ideas on value, production, competition, and equilibrium analysis. The aim will be to develop an understanding of the origin and evolution of central concepts in economic theory, as well as examine methodological disputes over positivism and formalism. We will end with a discussion of the relevance of these ideas for contemporary economics. Prerequisite intermediate microeconomics (Econ 1110 or 1130).

Course Syllabus

This class provides an introduction to topics in political economy with a focus on using basic models to understand both individuals and groups facing a variety of social dilemmas. Simple formal models will provide a framework for understanding problems in politics and political economy, including the collective action problem, prisoner’s dilemma, coordination problems, and more generally the importance of formal and informal institutions in guiding social outcomes. The class surveys major thinkers in political economy and uses their ideas to understand major changes in society, markets, and states from an historical perspective.

Course Syllabus

Will examine relationships and interactions among institutions, criminal actors, and violence. State-based institutions play an important role in explaining the level of disorganized or organized crime. Organized crime groups, in turn, influence both state-based institutions (for example, through corrupting officials) and other criminal activity, often by creating the “rules of the game” by which other criminals can act. Finally, both state-based and criminal actors and institutions influence the level of violence in society. Each of these three influences, and is influenced by, the others. This course offers the opportunity to better understand how these three factors relate to each other.

Course Syllabus

Will develop framework for analysis of criminal behavior in a variety of contemporary and historical settings. Examines the rationality behind criminal choices, how governments seek to control crime, alternatives to state-enforcement of criminal law, origins and operation of organized crime and mafia groups, and how crime affects regions characterized by failed or weak states. Study crime in a variety of contexts, including in the Sicilian Mafia, 18th century piracy, contemporary drug and sex markets, and prison gangs. Will develop tools that can be used to understand the observed variation in criminal activity, the organizational structure of criminal activity, and their broader consequences.

Course Syllabus

A Sample of Past Course Offerings

Are capitalist societies just or are they full of inequality and exploitation? Do they give people freedom or oppress them in one way or another? Do they encourage virtue or vice, excellence or mediocrity, happiness or misery? Are there other types of society that would be preferable? What might be done to improve capitalist societies? This course will investigate these questions through a study of some of the seminal philosophical arguments for and against capitalism, from its origins to the present day. 

Course Syllabus

Freedom has been called the greatest political concept of the modern world. But what is freedom? And if freedom is important, what should we do about it? Does freedom conflict with other important values, such as gender equality or distributive fairness? Can political systems that claim allegiance to freedom also make room for other values? Is the best society the one that cares only about freedom? 

Course Syllabus

Traditionally, theories of global justice treat "free market capitalism" as a problem that the theory of global justice is meant to redress. This course considers a different possibility: from the perspective of the world's most poor, a system of free markets may constitute a form of global justice. In particular, we consider an interpretation of global justice that is launched from libertarian mantra, "Free Trade, Free Migration, and Peace." What are the attractions and shortcomings of such a global ideal? In what sense, if any, might a global system of open markets claim to be fair or just, especially with respect to the world’s most disadvantaged? 

Course Syllabus

Many of the most renowned theorists of classical criminology were, in fact, self-identified political economists and political philosophers amidst the classical liberal and enlightenment tradition. Patterns of crime and punishment have significantly changed since the enlightenment period. This course asks simply: what would the enlightenment classical liberals have to say about today’s unique trends? Whereas Adam Smith was fascinated by and arguably successful in comprehending why some countries are rich and others poor; we borrow his analytical toolkit to investigate why some societies incarcerate more than others.

Course Syllabus

This course was taught by visiting scholar, Steven G. Calabresi, Clayton J. and Henry R. Barber Professor of Law at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and co-founder of the Federalist Society. 

Course Syllabus