Adam Etinson

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Courses Taught

Timely Topics in Political Philosophy

This module explores a variety of especially timely topics in political philosophy. In its 2019 iteration, the module explores questions about the origins, dangers, and subversion of democracy – including worries about populism, fascism, and the tyranny of the majority. Alongside this, the module examines questions about structural injustice, identity politics, the nature of the “modern” condition, and the role of anger, civility, and hope in politics. (syllabus)

Why Does the World Exist?

This course explores what is perhaps the most fundamental question in philosophy: why is there anything at all? We will look at arguments about whether or not the question is a sensible one, whether, if so, it is answerable, and what knowledge we can draw upon in attempting to answer it. Besides its intrinsic interest, the question touches other deep issues in philosophy – the nature of explanation, the notion of ultimate purpose, the fundamental nature and structure of reality, the existence of supernatural beings, the presence of objective value in the universe, and so on. We will look at various approaches to the central question from within and without the Western philosophical tradition. By the end of the course, students should expect to have a decisive answer. (draft syllabus)

Toleration in the Early Modern Period

This course offers an in-depth study of the theory and practice of religious toleration in the Early Modern Period (16th & 17th centuries). The course covers classic texts, such as Locke's Letter Concerning Toleration, but also spends a good deal of time exploring the thought of lesser-known figures: Pierre Bayle, Sebastian Castellio, Jean Bodin, etc. The main purpose of the course is to try to understand the variety of arguments offered both for and against religious tolerance in the Early Modern Period, the historical background or context informing these arguments, and the relationship between these arguments and the actual practice of religious tolerance or intolerance. (syllabus)

David Wiggins' Ethics

This graduate course introduces students to the moral philosophy of David Wiggins, principally through an encounter with his 2008 book, Ethics: Twelve Lectures on the Philosophy of Morality. We will be reading that book in its entirety, along with a few other papers by Wiggins, and various primary sources that form the subject of Wiggins’ discussions in Ethics (including Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant, and Mill, among others). This will provide students with an intimate understanding of Wiggins’ thought, as well as an opportunity to watch a twentieth-century philosopher in action, as it were – allowing them to compare Wiggins’ interpretation of classic works in moral philosophy with their own. (syllabus)

Moral Sainthood

Few of us do as much as we should to help others, and this is often a powerful source of guilt and regret. At the same time, those of us who are fastidiously concerned with the needs of others, and who act accordingly (call them altruists, or “moral saints”), can sometimes seem almost inhuman and even misguided. Is the moral life a good life? How should we balance our self-interest, and other goods, against the interests of others? (syllabus)

The Philosophy of Human Rights

This graduate seminar offers students an advanced introduction to key contemporary debates in human rights. The readings are interdisciplinary. The course covers current controversies regarding the history of human rights, their philosophical foundations, their cultural contestation, and their vexed relationship with realities of power. (syllabus)

Human Dignity

This advanced undergratuate course explores philosophical questions about human dignity. What is the meaning of "human dignity"? Is this a moral, or a legal idea, or both? Is there a distinction to be drawn between dignity, on the one hand, and human dignity, on the other? What is the connection, if any, between having dignity and having rights? Is human dignity an inherently religious concept? What grounding might it have in secular ethics? (syllabus)

Introduction to Political Philosophy

This undergraduate course offers students a general introduction to core topics in political philosophy, both from a historical and contemporary perspective. Topics covered include the purpose of the "state" and its legitimacy, the value of democracy, the meaning of freedom and equality, distributive justice, our obligations to foreigners, the critique of liberalism, multiculturalism, and moral progress. (syllabus)


This undergraduate course offers students a general introduction to the field of ethics. Topics covered include the question of why we should be moral, whether there are any "right" answers to moral questions, how we should live, Kantianism and Utilitarianism, Virtue Ethics, and the Care Ethics. A good portion of the course focuses on moral dillemmas and case studies, including abortion, euthanasia, the ethics of war, and animal rights, among others. (syllabus)


This advanced undergraduate class examines the nature, justification, and practical requirements of the ideal of toleration or tolerance. The course covers key historical readings (Saint Augustine, Pierre Bayle, John Locke, Jonas Proast, Immanuel Kant, and John Stuart Mill), key theoretical arguments (Skeptical, Relativistic, Autonomy-Based, Fallibilistic, Egalitarian, Democratic, Politically Liberal), major critiques (Wendy Brown, Herbert Marcuse), and ends by looking at difficult cases (The Satanic Verses controversy, and the Danish Cartoons) (syllabus)