PTP Courses


Prosperity: The Ethics and Economics of Wealth Creation: 10,000 years ago, everyone everywhere was dirt poor. Why are so many people now prosperous? Why do some societies grow rich while others remain poor? What does it take to succeed in societies whose economies are largely market-based? What does it take to deserve to succeed? What are some of the ethical problems arising from market exchanges, and are there any feasible solutions to these problems?

This course is an interdisciplinary study of what makes societies fair, free, and prosperous. We will evaluate the institutions of the market using the tools of ethics, political philosophy, economics, history, and political science. We will investigate issues concerning the nature of money and prices, the role of the division of labor, business ethics, commerce and entrepreneurship, overconsumption and overpopulation, exploitation and alienation, the relationship between wealth and happiness, the motivations of market actors, the rule of law, liberty and market society, rent-seeking and corporate welfare, and more. We will conduct experiments and play games in class to illustrate certain concepts.

Emergence and History of Economic Thinking: What, if anything, is distinctive about the economic mode of analysis? How did the discipline of economics arise? What were some of the problems economists were trying to solve, and how did they attempt to solve them? What should we learn from the history of economics? This course explores ideas in the history of economics and philosophy about the division of labor, the basis of social cooperation, views about wealth (what is it?), how it is created and distributed, and its relation to value and justice. We will start at the beginning: Plato's and Aristotle's views on economics and the division of labor. Reading include St. Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, Francois Quesany, Bernard Mandeville, David Hume, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, Thomas Robert Malthus, David Ricardo, Nassau Senior, John Stuart Mill, J.J. Rousseau, Karl Marx, W.S. Jevons, John Maynard Keynes and F.A. Hayek.

Capitalism, For and Against: What is capitalism? What are its defining traits and institutions, and the roles of the market and the state? How should individual rights and social responsibilities be balanced? What are capitalisms' strengths and weaknesses? Are capitalist societies or other types of systems the best way to achieve justice, promote excellence, and provide freedom, happiness, and material well-being? What are the coherent criticisms of and alternatives to capitalism? 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?

State Sovereignty and International Law: How should international law affect domestic politics and authority? What kinds of international rules, regulations and norms are there? What authority do they have? Should states obey international law even when it conflicts with their interests and that of their citizens? Is a law-governed order attainable in a world of sovereign states? This seminar explores the evolution of international law and its relation to state sovereignty. Authors include Bodin, Gentili, Grotius, Pufendorf, Rabkin, and Held.

Freedom: What is freedom? How important is it? How do we know? And if it is important, what should we do about it? This interdisciplinary course provides the tools to analyze different conceptions of liberty, including liberal egalitarian, classical liberal, Marxist, and fascist views. Our challenge is determine how the various aspects of freedom––political, personal, economic, and moral––are complementary, and determine what sorts of institutions promote or undermine these aspects.

The American Founding: This capstone seminar surveys original sources, classic interpretations, and new perspectives on America's revolutionary founding during the second half of the eighteenth century. Major topics include imperial loyalty and protest, popular sovereignty, liberty and republicanism, rebellion and revolution, independence, confederation and consolidation, constitution-making and constitutional interpretation, the politics of opposition, the rise of political parties, and the legacy of the American founding.

Authority and Legitimacy: What gives people in power the right to make and enforce laws? The course examines classic and contemporary conceptions of political authority and legitimacy. What is authority and when is it legitimate? Does legitimate authority depend on the consent of citizens, or on the justice of decisions? Can the people hold ultimate authority over the law, or is this merely empty rhetoric?

Environmental Ethics: What sorts of things have value? Does the realm of moral consideration extend past human beings to include animals, plants, and nature itself? How does environmental concern figure into the worthwhile life? What role do consumer goods play in a good life? How would we know? Good intentions are not enough to make good policy. Thus, this course also investigates what sorts of policies actually help protect the environment. We will learn what economics and other social sciences tell us about human behavior and how to shape institutions. We will examine issues in wildlife management, human population, resource use, and more.


Many of these courses could be taught from the perspective of different disciplines. Where suggested readings are included, they are just suggestions.

Democracy: To what degree does democracy help realize or impede important goals of social justice and prosperity? Does democracy tend to produce good political outcomes? Are there feasible, better alternatives? How much democracy do we really want, all things considered? How knowledgeable, well-informed, and rational do voters tend to be? How good is the quality of democratic discourse? What kinds of motivations—noble or ignoble—do politicians and bureaucrats tend to have? Should some items be removed from the political bargaining table? Readings might include: Rousseau, Joshua Cohen, Alasdair MacIntyre, Jeffrey Stout, Diana Mutz, Bryan Caplan.

Law, Prosperity, and Fairness: How did laws and governments emerge? What problems were laws supposed to solve? How well did various legal systems solve those laws? Why did the nation-state develop, and was its development good or bad? How do different legal systems and rules help to make us more free? How do different legal system and rules help to make societies more fair? What makes a legal system good?

Ideas and Institutions of Early America: What was the goal of the American experiment? How did ideas shape politics and how did politics shape ideas? How well did early America live up to its own ideals? Readings might include: Gordon Wood, Joyce Appleby, James Madison, Tocqueville.

Federalism vs. Anti-Federalism: Is the American Constitution instrumental to maintaining liberty, or a threat to it? What were the different views before it was ratified? What should we think now? Readings might include: The Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, Saul Cornell, Jeffrey Rogers Hummell.

Liberalism and Religion: To what extent is liberalism a natural outgrowth of Christianity, and in particular, Protestantism? Does liberal politics require a Christian or post-Christian secular society? Readings might include: John Locke, Max Weber, Robert Bellah, John Rawls, Stanley Hauerwas, William Connolly, Jeffrey Stout, James Butterfield.

Separation of Church and State: What is the role of religion and politics, and what should it be? Readings might include: Perez Zagorin, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther, John Rawls, Richard Rorty, Richard John Neuhaus, Philip Hamburger.

Law and Economics: What, if anything, can economics teach us about the effects of various legal rules, and what, if anything, should that tells us about their value? Readings might include: Ronald Coase, Richard Posner, Duncan Kennedy, Warren Samuels.

Economic Analysis of Political Behavior: What insights, if any, can economics give us into determining how citizens, legislators, judges, and other political agents behave? Readings might include: Public choice theory (Buchanan, Tullock), Arrow, Marx.

New Institutional Economics: How do various institutions function, and what good and bad do they do for people? Readings might include: North, De Soto, Coase, Greif, Williamson.