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Spring 2023 Seminar

The Jurisprudence of Excellence

Prerequisites: No special background is required. Cross-registrants are welcome. Anyone seeking information about this course should feel free to contact Professor Scott Brewer at

Exam Type: No Exam. Work for the course consists of class participation and a paper whose topic, to be agreed in consultation with the professor, is fairly related to course topics and discussions.

The inquiry of this course lies at the intersection of the concepts of excellence and contest.  Who deserves what, on the basis of what kinds of competitive measures (including for example formal competitions in sports, in litigation, in elections, in academic tests), is one of the most important and contentious issues in contemporary law, politics, and culture.  Ancient philosophers from many cultures have offered sustained inquiries into concepts of human excellence and the kinds of contests that ought to be used to measure it.  Since that time, ideas about competition, merit, and appropriate reward have been vitally important to political, moral, aesthetic, and legal philosophy.

In this course we carefully consider theories of excellence, merit, and just reward, and the legal regulation of contests in various competitive settings.  Such settings include competitions for admission to colleges and professional schools, competitions for rankings (grades) within such schools, competitions for promotion in jobs, competitions in elections and litigation, and competitions among professional and amateur athletes. Readings will be of two basic types. (i) Works in legal theory and philosophy. (ii) Legal materials (administrative regulations, cases, statutes, constitutional provisions, including laws of equal protection and anti-discrimination) that regulate the kinds of competitions described above.