The University of Texas at Austin - Civitas Institute

Spring 2023 Courses

Faculty Fellows of the Civitas Institute teach a number of courses on philosophy, politics and economics. In the Spring 2023 Term, Fellows are offering the following courses for UT Austin students.

Charity Joy Acchiardo

Charity-Joy Acchiardo

Experimental Economics

ECO 354M

Have you ever wondered if humans are fair by nature? Why do we often willingly trust strangers or cooperate with them even if those actions leave us vulnerable to exploitation? Does this inclination towards fairness or trust have implications in the market? Traditional economic theory would perhaps think not, perceiving human interaction as self-interested at heart. There is increasing evidence, however, that social norms and norm-driven behavior such as a preference for fairness, generosity, or trust have serious implications for economics. In order to examine human nature, we will be turning to experimental economics and behavioral economics this semester to understand how economic agents make decisions.

Experimental/Behavioral Economics is probably the fastest growing field in economics today. It is a field committed to the idea that economics, like all of the natural sciences, can be an experimental science using carefully controlled laboratory or field experiments. This course will look at what economic theory has to say about economic choices and strategic interactions and what people actually do when faced with strategic decisions. We will conduct a large number of in–class experiments in order to either identify systematic deviations or to confirm theoretical predictions.

Honors Social Sciences: Animal Crossing to Zelda – Learning Economics Through Games

SS 302F

Humans have been playing games and developing winning strategies for a very long time!  Towards the beginning of last century, economists and mathematicians began to formalize and model games and strategic behavior.  They have used their work to gain insight into social interactions and develop mechanisms to improve the efficiency and value of those exchanges.  Their work has impacted many spheres – from the cellular network you can access today, to business mergers, to nuclear disarmament! 

In this class, we’re going to use games and experiments to learn the economic principles underlying human behavior.  You’ll have the opportunity to create, collect, and analyze data from our interactions in class.  It’s a two-for-one value: master economic principles while perfecting your gaming strategy!

Daniel Bonevac

Dan Bonevac


PHL 325K

This course examines four central approaches to ethical theory on the contemporary scene – virtue ethics, deontology, consequentialism, and intuitionism – by a close reading of key texts from which they spring. The works we will be focusing on are Confucius’ Analects, Plato’s Laches, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Immanuel Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Jeremy Bentham’s Principles of Morals and Legislation, John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism, and W.D. Ross’s The Right and the Good.


PHL 325L

This course examines ethical questions relating to business from theoretical and practical points of view. The basic questions of ethics are: What should I (or we) do? What should I (or we) be? How do I (or we) decide? We’ll identify the main dimensions of moral reasoning, as well as the major sources of temptation and moral mistakes. We’ll pay special attention to ethical  dilemmas and techniques for resolving them. We will discuss theories of economic justice; the nature, rationale, and limitations of the free enterprise system; the ethics of competition; decision making in  business; the obligations of corporations; advertising; conflicts of interest; corporate social responsibility; employee rights and duties; relations to consumers  and other stakeholders; regulation; and issues arising from international business and globalization. 


GOV 335D  / PHL 342 1

“Natural law” refers to moral law – in particular, the fundamental moral principles that are built into the design of human nature and lie at the roots of conscience. Natural law thinking is the spine of the Western tradition of ethical and legal thought. The founders of the American republic also believed in the natural law — in universal and “self-evident” principles of justice and morality which the Declaration of Independence called “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” For generations afterward, most Americans took the reality of natural law for granted. Thomas Jefferson appealed to it to justify independence; Abraham Lincoln appealed to it to criticize slavery; Martin Luther King appealed to it to criticize Jim Crow laws. You would hardly guess any of this from the present day, because belief in natural law has come to be viewed as “politically incorrect.” Nevertheless, the tradition of natural law is experiencing a modest renaissance. 

Is there really a natural law? What difference does it make to society and politics if there is? Is it really “natural”? Is it really “law”? To consider these questions, we will read a variety of influential works on natural law from the middle ages to the present. Probably, most of your liberal arts education has implicitly rejected the whole idea, but in this course, for a change, you have an opportunity to hear the other side. 

We will focus on the classical natural law tradition, not revisionist versions such as the one promoted by the social contract writers of the early modern period. The first two units of the course focus on the ethical and legal thought of the most important and influential classical natural law thinker in history, Thomas Aquinas. He is a difficult writer, but we will work through his Treatise on Law carefully and I will provide lots of help. In the final unit, which is about the continuing influence of the classical natural law tradition, we will read a number of authors including Thomas Jefferson, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justices John McLean and Benjamin Curtis, Abraham Lincoln, Justin Buckley Dyer, Martin Luther King, C.S. Lewis, John Hittinger, Robert C. Koons, Matthew O’Brien, and myself. 

Justin Dyer

Justin Dyer


GOV 357F

This course is about how the U.S. Constitution frames the way we organize our life together as a political community. We will examine the constitutional allocation of authority to set public policy, analyze the design of our national political institutions and the contested boundaries between them, and look at the interplay of democratic politics and constitutional government. In his 2009 retirement letter, Supreme Court Justice David Souter numbered these issues among “those things that matter to decent people in a civil society.” Using the Supreme Court’s published opinions as our entry point into this conversation, we will explore and analyze foundational questions and debates that continue to shape the project of constitutional government 235 years after the drafting of our basic law.

Sheena Greitens

Sheena Chestnut Greitens


PA 388K 60637

Students in this course, which is required for the LBJ School’s Masters in Global Policy Studies, explore how to effectively, professionally, and creatively communicate about policy issues. We begin by practicing fundamentals of good writing: clarity, concision, persuasiveness, use of evidence, and audience awareness. We then turn to exploring – and practicing – different  writing/communication products that policy professionals use, first within their organizations and then externally. These products include briefing and decision memos, cables, intelligence  analysis, press releases, talking points, speechwriting, social media content, television, think tank reports, op-eds, and Congressional testimony. Students engage in regular processes of  revision and peer review. The course also typically welcomes 8-10 guest speakers, who discuss the role that writing and communications play in their policy work.


PA 388K 58981

This course is a graduate seminar on Chinese politics and foreign policy, designed to help students understand China’s development as a world power and its impact on global politics. It covers the history of China’s domestic politics and foreign policy since 1949; how contemporary Chinese domestic politics work; what factors shape China’s changing global engagement and its role in the world; and the future of U.S.-China relations and the changing international environment. Students will leave the course familiar with the key events, debates, and questions in the study of Chinese politics and foreign policy, and able to use this knowledge to assess current policy debates on China.

Will Inboden

Will Inboden


PA 388K 60260

What is the relationship between morality and policy?  In the statecraft of international affairs, is it enough to develop effective policies, or should they be ethical policies as well?  If so, what are the foundations of ethics in foreign policy, and how do ethical considerations apply in particular issues and situations?  

This course will examine the normative questions of international relations and challenge students to consider what those questions mean for our conduct as citizens and as aspiring policymakers.  There are many vexing normative issues in international politics.  When, if ever, is the use of force justified?  Should one state impose its moral code on another? To what extent do normative considerations influence the way states behave?  To what extent ought they?  Is there a different standard of morality for individuals than for governments?  What about non-governmental and transnational organizations?

The course will begin with a consideration of various philosophical, religious, and psychological foundations for ethics.  It will then explore how ethics might apply to a range of specific issues and circumstances, including war and pacifism, human rights and humanitarian intervention, refugee policy, foreign assistance and poverty, torture and detention, and the complex relationship of personal conscience, citizenship, and duties to the state.  Readings will include philosophical and religious texts, issue case studies, and historical treatments, and class activities will include extensive discussions and simulations of various ethical dilemmas.  The class will not offer easy answers, but will attempt to equip students for ethical reflection and action throughout their careers.  It will also equip students to better understand the moral judgments that people from other traditions make, which is essential for functioning in a pluralistic policy world.

Rob Koons

Robert Koons



In this course, will examine four modern political theories (classical liberalism, Marxism, social democracy, and traditional conservatism), with close reading and analysis of central texts.


UGS 303

In this course, we will explore the philosophical, ethical, epistemological, and anthropological issues that dystopian novels raise and how to develop strategies to avoid possible catastrophes such as those depicted in the dystopian novels.

David Leal

David Leal


GOV 366G

This course examines key aspects of British politics and government.  While no longer as powerful as during its days of empire, Britain is a longstanding ally of the United States and remains an important global power. To understand US, European, Atlantic, and global politics requires an understanding of the UK.  We begin with an overview of modern British political history, including the ideas, actors, laws, structures, and events that set the stage for contemporary politics. We then examine the major political institutions, including Parliament (Commons and Lords), the parties, the Prime Minister, the Civil Service, the media, and the judiciary. The next section covers elections and public opinion, including campaigns, candidates, constituencies, rules, voters, and recent contests. Lastly, we discuss emerging developments, including Brexit, social policies, and the possible political futures of the nation. Throughout the class, we will ask about the nature of democracy and freedom in the UK, make comparisons with US politics and government, and discuss the relationship of Britain with the US and the world in a post-empire era.

Dirk Mateer

Dirk Mateer


ECO 304K

The purpose of the class is to provide you with a firm understanding of the structure and workings of the micro-economy. Course topics include: supply and demand; elasticity; efficiency and equity; markets in action; utility; possibilities, preferences, and choices; theory of the firm; output and costs; perfect competition; monopoly, monopolistic competition, and oligopoly; behavioral economics; and public goods and externalities.

Daron Shaw

Daron Shaw


GOV 310L

This course is an introduction to American government and politics. While our main focus is on the national level, additional attention is paid to the state and local governments of Texas. In some instances, the American case is placed in a comparative context derived from the experience of other western democratic nations. In other instances, we focus on changes over time within the American political system to demonstrate how principles often change with context. At all times, we are interested in a better understanding of how this particular system has developed and what it means for citizens of the United States.

There are three primary objectives in this course. The first is to provide basic descriptive information about the American and Texas political systems by examining important political processes, institutions, and actors. The second is to develop analytical skills with which to understand complex relationships and phenomena. The third is to introduce the work of the political scientist by concentrating on the paradigms and techniques of the discipline.


GOV 370L

This course is designed to introduce you to American political campaigns and elections through lectures and readings. It is not designed to serve as a “how to” manual for aspiring politicians or consultants. Often, it is more theoretical than practical. Still, some nuts and bolts information is essential and will be part of the curriculum. My focus is on federal elections, though references are made to state and local elections. We spend some time revisiting past campaigns and elections to contrast and explicate contemporary American electoral politics. In particular, the lectures and readings pay attention to the presidential elections of 2012 and 2016. The races between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney and Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (respectively) are not only the most recent, but provide vivid details supplementing the theoretical and descriptive points raised in the course.

The course has three primary objectives.  The first is to provide basic information about American elections and electioneering by examining both the rules of the game and the players. The second is to develop analytical skills with which to analyze complex relationships and phenomena. The third is to introduce you to the work of the political scientist by concentrating on paradigms and techniques of the discipline. Unlike the lower division version of the course, the emphasis is on the latter two goals. 

Devin Stauffer

Devin Stauffer


CTI 320 GOV351C

The questions at the heart of classical political philosophy are very simple, even if the treatments of them by the ancient philosophers are extremely complex. What is justice? What does it ask of us as individuals? What does it demand of political communities in their internal structures and in their interactions with other communities? Are the demands of political life in harmony with the radical questioning of philosophy? In this course, we will consider these and other such questions through a careful study of three masterpieces of classical antiquity: Plato’s Apology of Socrates, Plato’s Republic, and Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. These works will be approached not only as crucial documents for our understanding of a distant age, but as works that speak directly to permanent questions of moral and political life.