Marginalization and Social Justice

Course Procedures

(Phil 389/ELPS 423 - Spring, 1999)

Walter P. Krolikowski, SJ — MAL266 Thomas Wren — CC349 (LSC)
Phone: 847-853-3326; fax: 847-853-3375 Phone: 773-508-2303; fax: 773-508-2292


The ethics of social justice focuses perforce on the marginalized. Social justice is not a quid pro quo activity; neither is it a matter of one's relationship to the great society which taxes and dispenses goods. It is concerned with those intermediate groups standing between the individual and the state, and with the role they play in doing what laws and rules and individual activity cannot do. Among those activities are schools, which are a concerted effort to help the helpless move from utter dependence to an independence which acknowledges their duties to help others who are dependent and acknowledges their own continued dependence on others if human life is to flourish.

What we have come to realize is the extent of this dependency on others. The truth is that all of us are dependent on others. This is especially true of the marginalized: the handicapped, the elderly, the minorities in our midst. Those minorities obviously include African-Americans, Hispanics, the incarcerated, homosexuals and lesbians, women, and, perhaps less obviously, children. (According to current usage, a group is a minority not because of some quantitative criterion but because their needs place them into the category of the oppressed.)

Still another issue is the meaning of "marginalization" itself. Obviously, people have group identities, but it is not always clear how these identities arise or are conferred, whether they are psychological or sociological categories, primordial givens or social constructions, and so on.


We have chosen several works that will focus our discussions. Alasdair MacIntyre's Dependent Rational Animals will help give us some theoretical and conceptual tools to supplement the inevitable need for factual knowledge. MacIntyre is one of the most prominent ethicists in the English speaking world. Martha Nussbaum's Cultivating Humanity will be extremely helpful in seeing what the situation is in undergraduate institutions across the country through the eyes of a philosopher trained in the classics, and now deeply involved with the plight of women in India. Charles Taylor's magisterial Multiculturalism frames the concepts of identity and political recognition. Titles of a few more books and articles, including some recent work in social construction theory that are somewhat more radical than those just mentioned, will be announced at the appropriate time, and selected readings will made available on the internet.


Specific procedures for discussing these readings will vary with the materials assigned, but the general procedures are as follows. Each week students will be asked to submit electronically short self-reports of their experience with the readings assigned for that class. Other relevant materials will be posted on the web whenever possible, and students will be asked to discover web resources that can be shared with other members of the class in a common "webliography." For these reasons, and since students will be expected to communicate extensively with each other and with the professors by e-mail, everyone should have access to the internet and know how to use email. Further information on this matter will be available in class.


A major part of the course will be a group project, in which teams of two students collaborate on a term paper exploring social justice issues in some domain of marginalization. This paper will be presented to the class during the last weeks of the course. Students will be expected to work closely with each other, and to submit outlines and preliminary drafts well ahead of the scheduled public presentation. Also, a short selection from the works discussed in your paper (or some equally relevant material such as a published review) should be circulated during the meeting before the presentation, by way of preparing the rest of the class to discuss your paper.


In order to ensure that class discussions are educationally effective, all students are expected to have read the assigned texts very carefully. For the same reason (also, as part of your professional training) attendance is expected for every class. Any absences must be accounted for and "repaired" by make-up work (an unexplained or unrepaired absence will reduce your final grade by one letter). Active and well-prepared class participation counts as 50% of the final grade. "Participation" here includes not only your physical presence but also evidence (by self-reports and familiarity with the texts) that you have read the assignments carefully. It also includes the satisfactory completion of smaller tasks, such as preparing reports or promptly submitting your term paper outline, although these will not be graded. The above-mentioned term paper will be counted as the other 50%, and is due on Thursday, May 2. It should be written in appropriate scholarly fashion, as described in Zachary Seech's Writing Philosophy Papers, which is available at Beck's bookstore.


Students are asked to submit a short biographical statement at the beginning of the course (due by the end of the first week) that can be made available to other members of the class. The form for this report is found on the web (click here). NB: You may indicate any items that are for the teachers only.


For almost two decades, this course has been team-taught by a moral philosopher (Wren) and a philosopher of education (Krolikowski), and cross-listed in their respective departments (PHIL 389 and ELPS 423). Fr. Krolikowski's main office is at the Mallinckrodt Campus, MAL266 (847-853-3326). Dr. Wren's main office is at the Lake Shore Campus, CC349, where he can be reached Tuesdays, Thursdays, and usually on other weekdays as well (tel. 773-508-2303; fax 773-508-2292). They will also be available at the Water Tower Campus during the hour before class on Tuesdays, either in the cafeteria or in LT919 (tel. 312-915-6095). Send email to or