Skip to main content

Special Topics in Political Science (390-0-20)


Integrity and the Politics of Corruption


Shmuel Nili
Scott Hall, Room 20
Office Hours:

Meeting Info

Scott Hall 201 Ripton Room: Mon, Wed 9:30AM - 10:50AM

Overview of class

Special Topics: Integrity and the Politics of Corruption
If all seasoned politicians in a fragile democracy are implicated in wide-scale corruption, but if the country is facing an acute economic crisis requiring experience at the helm, what ought to be done about the corrupt, and who ought to decide? What compromises, if any, are appropriate when considering kleptocrats who are effectively holding their people hostage - for instance, rulers who systematically abuse loans from foreign creditors, but who rely on the fact that their vulnerable population will suffer if loans are cut off entirely? What compromises, if any, are morally appropriate when dealing with dictators who threaten to unleash violence unless they are guaranteed an amnesty by the democratic forces trying to replace them? This upper-level course delves into such fraught political problems, revolving around different kinds of corruption and abuse of political power. In order to grapple with these problems, we examine in detail two moral ideas related to "the people." The first is the idea of the sovereign people as the owner of public property, often stolen by corrupt politicians. The second is the idea of the people as an agent with its own moral integrity - an integrity that might bear on intricate policy dilemmas surrounding the proper response to corruption. In the process of examining both of these ideas, students will acquire familiarity with prominent philosophical treatments of integrity, property, and - more generally - public policy.

Registration Requirements

This course is open to undergraduate and graduate students. Graduate students will have additional paper requirements.

Learning Objectives

Students will acquire familiarity with prominent philosophical treatments of corruption, integrity, property, and - more generally - public policy.

Teaching Method


Evaluation Method

Class participation (50% of grade) - As an upper-level seminar, this course heavily depends on your active, informed participation in class discussion. To participate effectively you must (aside from attending every session) complete the assigned readings before each session. Most weeks, the course's reading load is moderate, but the thinking load is high. Participating in class is a key way to illustrate (and develop) your thinking. Written work - One short paper (around 1500 words) (20% of grade) that will allow you to initiate discussion, due 24 hours before the relevant session. We will distribute sessions in the first or second week or class. Your short paper should help you lay foundations for your final paper (you should upload the paper to Canvas to give others a chance to read it and offer you comments during the session). This paper must critically engage with specific arguments out of the relevant week's readings, rather than offer only a review of the readings. - A revised and extended version of the paper - around 3000 words - (30% of grade). This version will further develop your argument, based on the comments on the shorter text you have received from me and from fellow students when you presented it.

Class Materials (Required)

Nili, Shmuel. The Peoples Duty, Collective Agency and the Morality of Public Policy (Cambridge University Press, 2019). ISBN: 9781108480925

Class Notes

This course fulfills the "Ethics" distro requirement (cross listed with Humanities).