Core 1: Defining Justice

Steven G. Smith –
Office: Christian Center 11, 601-974-1334
Office hours & syllabus posted
Home: 1611 Edgewood St, 601-354-2290

Core 1/IDST 1000-03
Freshman Seminar: Critical Thinking and Academic Literacy
Fall 2013

Human community would be impossible without a serious shared commitment to some standards for treating people rightly and some practical procedures for preventing and repairing wrong treatment. We obviously need “justice.” But what “justice” consists of is a very complicated and contentious matter, given the myriad and ever-changing ways in which we compete with each other, cooperate with each other, and are able to frustrate or harm each other—even within one community, where different visions of justice are constantly arising; when we compare cultures and historical contexts we find a still wider range of differences.

If you live in a small, traditionalist, nonliterate society in a remote mountain valley with no communication with the outside world, you may be able to resolve all the justice issues that come up in your life simply by upholding the age-old customs of your group. Otherwise . . . you know too much and you’re connected to too many categories of people (and other beings) in too dynamic a situation for mere traditionalism to work. You need to philosophize.

On a day-to-day practical level, a “justice issue” is about figuring out how to treat someone fairly, and we assume it’s possible to make a relevant calculation. But then issues come up like Affirmative Action where we find that people have different underlying assumptions about right treatment. Another dimension of discussion opens up: defining justice. How can we reason about justice together, if we don’t start out agreeing what justice is? And how can we agree about justice when we have different community ties, different practical priorities, different experiences of harm and benefit, different perceptions of what is real and valuable, and different hopes for the future?

We have to philosophize. To do this well, we need practice, and we have to learn as much as we can from others who have philosophized powerfully.

This course is designed to engage a very wide range of views of justice and methods in defining justice. It is not designed to change anyone’s position on justice, but it does require that diverse perspectives on justice be taken seriously so that our capacity to reason about justice may be strengthened. Grasping and learning how to represent the part of the truth that is offered by people you differ from is worth a hundred times more than neatly expressing your own pre-existing views. (Do you agree with the ideal of “doing justice” to others’ views that underlies that last remark?)

REQUIRED TEXTS available in the Millsaps College Bookstore

Andrea Lunsford, EasyWriter, 4th ed.
David Rosenwasser & Jill Stephen, Writing Analytically, 6th ed.
Michael Sandel, Justice
Simone Weil, The Need for Roots

In addition, the Core 1 handbook, Writing at Millsaps, will be distributed by e-mail.


Short writings (homework, in-class) 25%
Critical Analysis paper #1 15%
Timed writing 10%
Different Perspectives paper 15%
Research paper 25%
Oral performance 10%


1. Seminar discussion; preparation

You are assigned to participate in 49 Seminar Meetings (those are the classes listed in the schedule minus an allowance of four for being sick, on a sports trip, etc.) If you fall short of meeting this assignment due to unforeseeable and uncontrollable circumstances, I’ll give you substitute work in the form of writing assignments, but not to offset more than 4 excess absences. Past that point you just aren’t as much a member of this seminar.

Seminar work advances your own learning and that of your colleagues as well, in this unique group dealing at this unique time in history with these matters of universal concern. You won’t be regarded as a passive recipient of information. You’ll be expected to question, debate, empathize, and counter-propose. You’ll be given ample opportunity in classroom discussion, formal and informal written exercises, and oral presentations to define your own views on justice.

As a seminar member, it’s your responsibility to prepare ahead of time by reading the appropriate material and thinking and writing about it so as to be able to participate fully in each day’s discussion. Some of our reading will be quite challenging, but you’ll get it in manageable doses. We’ll work together on improving reading skills, with attention to effective marking and annotating of texts.

It’s also your responsibility to respect the views of others, even when you are in strong disagreement. The purpose of discussion is not to score points but to find new understanding. One product of fruitful discussion is new questions. Good discussions are among the most enlightening, energizing, and enjoyable things that ever happen in human life. Let’s have some.

There are numerous roles that individuals can play in discussion, some beneficial and some detrimental. Among the beneficial roles are: initiating the discussion, asking for and giving information and reactions, sponsoring and encouraging others to speak, comparing or synthesizing the comments of others, and relieving group tension if the discussion becomes frustrating. Among the detrimental roles are: sidetracking the group to strictly personal concerns, interrupting others, monopolizing the discussion, putting others down, failing to listen, and keeping mum.

2. Oral presentations

From time to time students will be asked to make brief discussion-starter presentations based on assigned readings. In the last week of the semester, students will orally present the main findings of their Research Papers.

The benefit of these exercises is to gain comfort and fluency in public speaking—a major challenge for many of us but an important capacity for anyone, don’t underestimate it!—and to practice using judgment in choosing and organizing points to present.

3. Writing

The most important writing you do in this course could turn out to be your personal journal which no one else directly sees. Even if you don’t think you’re the journaling type, I urge you to make a constant practice of writing down your thoughts and indicating your reactions to facts and ideas that come up in our course, since this will give you resources to draw on for oral participation and for papers too. In addition, I’ll give you short out-of-class and in-class writing assignments from time to time to give you more practice in thinking and writing and to rev everyone up for a discussion with a certain focus. The point is: keep track of new data and build your insights. You can’t keep track or build if you don’t write. To paraphrase Deuteronomy 30:19, I am setting before you today two ways, one which leads to Learning, the other to Forgetting: choose Learning.

You’ll also write several longer papers, all of which will end up in your Millsaps Writing Portfolio as credentials of writing proficiency.

Critical Analysis Paper – In this 1,000-word paper you’ll take a close look at what you judge to be a key passage in a classical text dealing with justice (probably one of the texts we’ve read for this class)—a passage that needs to be carefully interpreted both for what it might reveal about the thinking of an older society and for how it carries forward into our own thinking today. The emphasis here is on analysis and organization of ideas.

Different Perspectives Paper – In this 1,000-word paper you’ll research a suitably limited topic relating to conceptions of justice. The emphasis of this assignment is on locating, using, and documenting sources appropriately. You’ll make sense for your readers of how different ideals of justice or strategies for making justice appeals are found in different texts, movies, songs, social positions, or cultures.

Research Paper – This 2,000-word paper will be on a justice-related topic of your own choice that I have approved. You’ll combine research (with appropriate use of sources and documentation) with developed analysis and argumentation of your own. You’ll get comments on the first draft of this paper from peer reviewers as well as from me.

An in-class essay exam will also go into your Writing Portfolio as a specimen of timed writing. This exam will be on assigned questions relating to course readings. You’ll know in advance what you’ll be writing about.

Finally, you’ll write a Critical Reflection on Personal Learning in which you review your first semester learning experiences. This self-assessment essay will not be graded but will be included in your Writing Proficiency Portfolio. Guidelines will be furnished.

Due dates: Sept. 16 Critical Analysis paper
Sept. 18 Critical Analysis peer review
Sept. 24 Final version of Critical Analysis paper
Oct. 4 In-class essay exam
Oct. 18 Different Perspectives paper
Oct. 25 Different Perspectives peer review
Oct. 29 Final version of Different Perspectives paper
Nov. 4 Research Paper prospectus
Nov. 22 Research Paper
Nov. 25 Research Paper peer review
Dec. 6 Final version of Research Paper
Dec. 9 Critical Reflection on Personal Learning

In common with other Core 1 classes, we’ll be working on four major writing skills throughout the semester: analysis, organization, documentation, and revision. All of your formal writing must demonstrate your ability to analyze an issue and organize your thoughts effectively. You’ll also practice the important skill of finding and working effectively with sources as you join the fellowship of scholars. Your essays will be revised based on feedback from me and your peers, which will enable you to become increasingly confident expressing your ideas clearly, logically, and persuasively.

In evaluating a paper I’ll focus on how you present your main idea, how you organize the paper, the style and voice of your presentation, how you use evidence and documentation to support your ideas (when appropriate), how thoroughly you interpret and analyze, and how carefully you handle punctuation, spelling and proofreading. The complexity of your thinking is of prime importance. Complex thinking is often termed “critical thinking,” which in this context does not mean rejecting something but rather taking full advantage of opportunities for thoughtful assessment. Critical thinking incorporates multiple points of view, addresses problems which may have no neat and simple answers, recognizes ambiguity, and traces connections that may not have been obvious. Critical thinkers can question their own assumptions and are able to be self-assessors.

Good writing which incorporates critical thinking usually requires a lot of re-writing. This course is as much about re-writing as writing, and you’ll learn how to manage your whole writing process for better results. “Revision” means much more than just correcting errors in spelling, punctuation, grammar, vocabulary and documentation. Your revised paper should show enhanced clarity and deeper insight. You’ll always be asked to keep, and turn in, all drafts of the formal papers you write for this course.

“Draft,” by the way, does not mean “fragment”: any draft that you submit to fulfill an assignment must be a complete paper. Any draft should be carefully proofread. One of the most unpopular things you can do in this life is to make people read sloppy writing.

Your papers should be typed on a word-processing system (if you don’t have a computer or word-processor of your own, you should use the campus computer labs), double-spaced, in Times New Roman with a font size of 12, one inch margins, and numbered pages (beginning with the first page of the text). Each paper should have a separate title page, unnumbered, that includes the title of the paper, your name, the name and section of the class, the date of submission, and your honor pledge: “I hereby certify that I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment [Signature].” The abbreviation “Pledged” followed by your signature has the same meaning and is acceptable on written assignments for this course.

Make sure now that you have a reliable means of backing up your work electronically and printing it out for timely submission. Do back up your work, and do get it in by deadlines. Don’t tell anyone who has given you an assignment that the computer ate your homework. You are graded by your achievement.

Any specific ideas or phrases that you take from a published source should be documented with parenthetical notes and a Works Cited page (consult EasyWriter and the Honor Code). Citations and bibliographies should be in the MLA (Modern Language Association) format.

Since most of your work is going to end up in your Writing Portfolio, remember to keep a computer file of each of the papers as well as a clean paper copy.


Here is what letter grades generally mean at Millsaps:

A means you have produced a paper exemplary in almost every way. You have presented your thesis coherently, you have organized your thoughts effectively, and you have supported your interpretations meticulously. An A paper is also one that is excellent in style and voice or tone. An A paper shows rigorous attention to form (spelling, punctuation, grammar, documentation) as well as content. Your work on that paper is superior.

B means you have gone beyond the minimum requirements of the assignment and have successfully balanced description with analysis. You express yourself more clearly, meaningfully, and imaginatively than in a C paper. Your work on that paper is good.

C means you have successfully completed the minimum requirements of an assignment. Your paper has no major problems of any kind, but there is still much for you to do to better your grade. Your work on that paper is mediocre.

D means your work is seriously deficient in some way.

F means your work has failed to meet the most basic requirements of the assignment.


Millsaps College requires all students to demonstrate proficiency in writing by the end of their sophomore year. To do so, students compile a Writing Portfolio of assignments assessed by instructors and rated on a scale of 1 (low) to 5 (high), with 3 being “proficient.” Five specific areas are assessed: content (command of material, supporting evidence, complexity of thought); organization (logical presentation, sequencing, transitions); style (diction, suitability for intended audience); documentation (bibliography, notes, complete and accurate citations); and mechanics (syntax, grammar, punctuation, spelling). All of your major Core 1 writings will go into your Writing Portfolio. The remaining elements of your portfolio will be drawn from other Core courses as indicated by your instructors. See the Core 1 Handbook, Writing at Millsaps, for more on this.


Students are required to have two contacts this semester with the Writing Center on the first floor of John Stone Hall. You may attend a Documentation workshop and one personal tutoring session, or two personal tutoring sessions. The Writing Center sends a note to professors to let them know when a student has visited. The Writing Center tutors are good at discussing with you your goals and strategy for a paper and giving you feedback on what you are and aren’t communicating. They are not going to give you a last-minute grammar check or spell check. To get the full benefit of this great resource, visit early in the process of writing a paper and visit again as your paper nears completion. The Writing Center hours of operation and workshop schedule for this semester will be found in Writing at Millsaps. Hours are also posted at John Stone Hall, on the Millsaps web page, and on flyers around campus.


Every student will have two contacts with the library staff. The first is the Scavenger Hunt at the beginning of the semester. The second will be on October 30 and will be more closely related to your major research project in the course. If you miss either of these sessions and don’t make it up (librarians are taking attendance), you’ll lose a point of your course grade.

I’ll assume you monitor your e-mail daily throughout the semester and get my messages relating to our seminar in a timely manner. Millsaps faculty frequently use e-mail to send important announcements, guidelines, and learning resources to students in their classes.

Millsaps College is an academic community where men and women pursue a life of scholarly inquiry and intellectual growth. The foundation of this community is a spirit of personal honesty and mutual trust. In order to maintain trust among members of the College, faculty and students must adhere to these basic ethical principles. Honor within an academic community is not simply a matter of rules and procedures; it is an opportunity to put personal responsibility and integrity into action. When students accept the implicit bond of honor in an academic community, they liberate themselves to pursue their academic goals in an atmosphere of mutual confidence and respect. By choosing to come to Millsaps College, you have indicated your willingness to abide by its Honor Code. The success of the Code depends on the support of each member of the community. Students and faculty alike commit themselves in their work to the principles of academic honesty. When they become aware of infractions, both students and faculty are obligated to report them in the form of a written report to the Honor Council, which is responsible for enforcement. This account must be signed, the accusation explained in as much detail as possible, and submitted to the Dean of the College.

Plagiarism, the use of someone else’s ideas or words without proper acknowledgment (even in short writing exercises and take-home exams), is not always intentional but is always reprehensible. Plagiarism and auto-plagiarism, which is the presentation of your own work done in high school or in another college course, are violations of academic honor and disqualify any work for academic credit. Besides being fraudulent, plagiarism misses the whole point of college study, which is to develop your own powers of thought and expression to the greatest extent possible.

Warning: an increasingly common plagiarism scenario is that a student gathers relevant material from online by copying it and pasting it into the file for the paper, with the idea of writing the eventual paper around some of this material as quotes, or paraphrasing it; time runs out, the deadline is nigh; the student hasn’t done much original work, hasn’t kept close tabs on where the material comes from, and hurriedly hands in a paper with big gobs of unacknowledged copied material. Please notice that this is deceptively close to a good methodology for developing a paper and yet, as this student practices it, is fatally flawed in being totally backwards. You don’t do your writing around the edges of captured material, like some anonymous medieval scribe-editor. You write—yours is the mind and voice the world is paying attention to—and you use limited portions of captured material as evidence in your argument when appropriate.

Pledge all written work that is to be graded as a sign of your commitment to the ideals of personal responsibility and rigorous scholarship. You can either write the full pledge (“I hereby certify that I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment”) or the abbreviation “Pledged,” followed by your signature. As a reminder, the pledge signed by all students upon entering the College is as follows: As a Millsaps College student, I hereby affirm that I understand the Honor Code and am aware of its implications and of my responsibility to the Code. In the interests of expanding the atmosphere of respect and trust in the College, I promise to uphold the Honor Code and I will not tolerate dishonest behavior in myself or in others.


If you’re having problems of any sort that are affecting your work in this course or your life at Millsaps, please feel free to come talk to me about it, or write me an e-mail. I want to know what’s going on.


Week 1
M, 8/26 Introduction to course.
W, 8/28 Contemporary justice issues: some approaches
READ: Michael Sandel, Justice, chap. 1
T, 8/27 Writing at Millsaps.
READ: Writing at Millsaps; Easy Writer 146-155
F, 8/30 Contemporary justice issues: the principle of ownership
READ: Sandel, chap. 3

Week 2
T, 9/3 The case of Henrietta Lacks (the summer reading/writing assignment)
DUE: 3 copies of Lacks essay
W, 9/4 The anthropology of justice
READ: Diamond, “Vengeance Is Ours” [online]
DUE: Complete plagiarism tutorial online
F, 9/6 Classical perspectives: the ancient Near East
READ: Code of Hammurabi; Exodus [online]
DUE: Peer response to Lacks essay

Week 3
M, 9/9 Classical perspectives: Plato on justice
READ: Plato, Republic selection [handout]
T, 9/10 Introduction to Writing Analytically and the Critical Analysis assignment
READ: Writing Analytically, chaps. 1-2 esp. pp. 5-10, 13-14, 24-25, 33-35, 42-49
W, 9/11 Classical Chinese perspectives
READ: Laozi, Kongzi, and Mengzi selections [handout]
F, 9/13 Classical Indian perspectives
READ: The Bhagavad-Gita selection [online]

Week 4
M, 9/16 Discussion of classical perspectives.
DUE: Critical Analysis paper
W, 9/18 Writing Workshop: writing about visual media; possible approaches to the Different Perspectives paper
READ: Writing Analytically, chaps. 2-3 selection
DUE BY END OF WEDNESDAY: Critical Analysis peer review
F, 9/20 A fictional caricature of justice in a polarized society.
VIEW: Punishment Park [online]

Week 5
M, 9/23 Sexual justice: Thomas Aquinas on natural law
READ: Aquinas, Summa Theologica selections [online]
T, 9/24 DUE BY END OF TUESDAY: Final version of Critical Analysis
W, 9/25 Sexual justice: a contemporary critique of natural law
F, 9/27 Writing workshop: plagiarism and documentation
READ: Easy Writer 197-202 (206-252); Writing Analytically 296-298

Week 6
M, 9/30 Justifications of slavery
READ: Aristotle et al. [handout]
T, 10/1 Conscientious insubordination
READ: Henry David Thoreau, “On Civil Disobedience” [online]
W, 10/2 Conscientious insubordination, cont.
READ: Mohandas Gandhi and M. L. King [handout]
F, 10/4 In-class essay exam

Week 7
M, 10/7 How to start a society over.
READ: Simone Weil, The Need for Roots, Part I
W, 10/9 Starting over, cont.
READ: Weil, Part II
F, 10/11 Starting over, cont.
READ: Weil, Part III

Week 8
W, 10/16 Justice and gender.
READ: Aristotle and Plato [handout]
F, 10/18 Justice and gender, cont.
READ: Qur’an selections [handout]
DUE BY END OF FRIDAY: 1st draft of Different Perspectives paper

Week 9
M, 10/21 Justice and gender, cont.
READ: Contemporary Islamic perspectives [handout]
T, 10/22 Reading workshop.
READ: Writing Analytically, chap. 5
W, 10/23 Justice and gender, cont.
READ: Susan Okin on justice and the family [handout]
F, 10/25 Justice and war
READ: Michael Walzer on justice in war [handout]
DUE BY END OF FRIDAY: Different Perspectives peer review

Week 10
M, 10/28 Justice and war, cont.
READ: Nel Noddings’ critique of just war thinking [handout]
DUE BY END OF TUESDAY: Final version of Different Perspectives paper with peer comments
W, 10/30 Library session for Research Paper
READ: Writing Analytically, chaps. 13-14
F, 11/1 Justice and terrorism

Week 11
M, 11/4 Capital punishment.
READ: Ann Pace et al., TBA
DUE: Research Paper prospectus

T, 11/5 Argument workshop.
READ: Writing Analytically, chap. 8
W, 11/6 Capital punishment, cont.
VIEW: Dead Man Walking
F, 11/8 Affirmative action.
READ: Sandel, chap. 7

Week 12
M, 11/11 Do we have historical obligations?
READ: Sandel, chap. 9
W, 11/13 Do we have global obligations?
READ: Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality” [online]
F, 11/15 Writing workshop: Introductions and conclusions
Reading Response to item for Research Paper

Week 13
M, 11/18 Environmentalism.
READ: Christopher Stone, “Should Trees Have Standing?” [online]
W, 11/20 Environmentalism, cont.
READ: Arne Naess & George Sessions, “Basic Principles of Deep Ecology” [online]
F, 11/22 Writing workshop: Research Paper peer responses in class
DUE: Research Paper
Week 14
M, 11/25 The counterclaim of “environmental justice.”
READ: Dale Jamieson, “Justice: The Heart of Environmentalism” [online]
DUE: Research Paper peer responses
T, 11/26 Climate justice.
READ: J. Timmons Roberts, “Globalizing Environmental Justice” [online]

Week 15
M, 12/2 Research Presentations I
T, 12/3 Research Presentations II
W, 12/4 Research Presentations III
F, 12/6 Research Presentations IV
DUE ANYTIME FRIDAY: Final version of Research Paper

Week 16
M, 12/9 Reflections on learning.
READ: Wheeler, “The Outlier You Want to Keep” (2012-13 Laney Award Winner) [online]
DUE ANYTIME MONDAY: Critical Reflection on Personal Learning
(uploaded to Writing Portfolio)


1. Class attendance. Being in class, being engaged with the work of the class, and behaving courteously are all expected. One discourtesy to avoid is coming into class late. Better late than never, definitely; but lateness counts as half an absence—that is, your work with the class that day will be counted as only half done. One percent of the course grade will be lost for each absence from class for any reason, beginning with the fifth absence. (For example, someone who missed class 9 times would lose 5% of the course grade, or half a letter grade.) The reason for this: our in-class work is a crucial and irreplaceable part of the substance of the course.

2. Electronic communication devices (phones, laptops, etc.). Electronic devices have become harmful Interrupters and Distracters in the current state of our social evolution. Their use is banned in our class. If you have special needs, discuss with me.

3. Late papers. Written assignments turned in late will lose a letter grade or equivalent. Homework may not be turned in more than one week after its due date. No work of any kind will be accepted after the last day of final examinations. Exceptions to this policy will be granted only to the victims of unforeseeable and uncontrollable circumstances.

4. As a general rule, no e-mail submissions. Unless the instructor allows it under specified circumstances, e-mail submissions of assigned writing are not accepted.

5. Plagiarism. Using the words or ideas of others without acknowledgment—that is, passing them off as your own—is a fraudulent practice called plagiarism. It also misses one of the main points of being in college, which is to develop your powers of thought and expression. Plagiarism is an offense under the Academic Honor Code (see next page).

6. Incompletes. An “Incomplete” grade for the course will only be given to students who, due to unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances, find themselves unable to complete course requirements during the term and can reasonably be expected to complete them within a few weeks after the term’s end. The “Incomplete” must be requested and appropriately justified before the end of final examinations.

7. Disabilities. Students with documented disabilities should discuss their needs with the instructor at the beginning of the semester.
From the ODS: If you have any needs or require accommodations related to a disability or learning difference, please contact Patrick Cooper to register with the Office of Disability Services. You can reach him via e-mail at or by calling extension 1228. Accommodations will not be granted until a meeting has taken place with Patrick and letters have been received by your instructor.