In This Section:
I. Author Bio
II. Author Letter
I. Author Bio
Steven Cahn is currently a full professor at the graduate School and University Center at the City University of New York.
Robert Talisseis currently an associate professor of philosphy and political science at Vanderbilt University.
II. Author Letter
Political Problems is a reader in applied social and political philosophy. The book gathers together essays on twelve contemporary problems: school vouchers, government support for the arts, pornography, same-sex marriage, drug legalization, gun control, terrorism, torture, capital punishment, affirmative action, immigration, and the environment. For each problem, Steven Cahn and I have selected two excellent essays, each representing a distinctive approach. The essays are accessible to undergraduates and provide a solid basis for lively in-class discussion.
Those who teach undergraduate courses in Social and Political Philosophy find themselves in a bind. Given the rich history of the area and the important recent theoretical developments in the field, instructors often are unable to include applied issues in their courses. This omission can have the effect of leaving students with the impression that social and political philosophy is an arm-chair enterprise, divorced from the real world. Political Problems offers instructors an easy way to introduce into their courses discussion of current real-world political and social problems. The text is designed to be used as a supplement to any of the standard readers in the history of Social and Political Philosophy.
More importantly, the essays included in Political Problems frequently make reference to leading ideas and themes from key texts in the history of the field. In Political Problems, students will find enlightening appeals to Mill’s harm principle, Locke’s conception of property, Kant’s views about dignity, Aristotle’s ideas about civic virtue, and much else, all in the context of philosophical discussions of concrete and familiar problems of public policy. Political Problems thus enables instructors to establish continuity between theory and practice in Social and Political Philosophy.
I have used Political Problems with great success in my undergraduate course on Social and Political Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. My course is the first in a sequence of Social and Political Philosophy courses, and is explicitly aimed at providing students with a broad overview of the field. I spend roughly the first two-thirds of the course working through selections from key historical figures, including Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Mill, Rawls, and Nozick. These texts provide occasion to discuss several central concepts such as equality, liberty, authority, autonomy, consent, coercion, punishment, and neutrality. I then devote the final third of the course to Political Problems. As the selections are relatively short and accessible, I have students read an essay for each class meeting (my class meets three times a week).
Students are almost always able to reconstruct the central argument of each essay without my assistance, and the connections with the historical material previously covered are often obvious to the students. We spend our time in class discussing the issue addressed in the day’s reading. Students get a clear sense that Social and Political Philosophy is a living and vibrant field.
Robert B. Talisse
Professor of Philosophy, Vanderbilt University