• Unit 2: Rights, the State, and the Free Market

    Thus far, we have predominantly considered theories of just action that base their criteria for justice on an action's consequences. Utilitarianism provides a convincing justification for many of our moral intuitions, but even more refined versions can seem unsatisfying when we realize they reduce moral decisions to detached, rational calculations. For a more adequate theory of just action, we may need to consider an alternative approach to justice and morality.

    In this unit we examine some other approaches to ethical questions which are not grounded in the consequences of action. Libertarianism argues that morality and justice are rooted in the natural rights of individual human beings. While consequences matter, they are always secondary to considerations of natural rights. Libertarianism centers on the relationship between individual freedom and the laws of the state.

    We look at arguments from both sides of this question. In the Crito, Plato claims an individual does not have a right to defy their government. In contrast, contemporary proponents of libertarianism, such as Milton Friedman and Robert Nozick, uphold individual rights and liberties. John Locke argues we can always rescind our government contract. Locke’s arguments have helped shape modern western democracies, such as the United States.

    Completing this unit should take you approximately 13 hours.

    • 2.1: Individual and the State: Plato's Crito

    • 2.2: Libertarianism as an Alternative Approach to the Question of Rights

    • 2.3: John Locke and Fundamental Individual Rights

    • Unit 2 Discussion

    • Unit 2 Assessment