Western Political Thought

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Course Level:
Course Length:
15 weeks

Course Objectives:

This course provides an introduction to some of the basic problems of political life as examined in the work of the great political philosophers from ancient to modern times.

We will read primary texts from Plato to Marx in an effort to determine the scope and nature of political life.


Course Requirements:

  • There will be three formal writing assignments in this class. The first paper will be a short (4-5 pages) essay on an assigned topic. The paper will be worth 15% of your course grade. You will have roughly two weeks to complete this paper.
  • A second, longer paper (7-8 pages) will be assigned at roughly the halfway point in the term. This paper will be worth 25% of your course grade. You will have three weeks to a month to complete this essay.
  • Finally, there will be a take home final exam. The question for this exam will be given at least a month before it is due. The final is due at 10:30a on Monday, May 1, 2006. This paper will account for 40% of your course grade.
  • The remaining 20% of your grade will be reflective of your attendance and participation. Please be aware that although attendance is only worth 20% of your grade (or less, given the participation component) I will penalize you in excess of 20% of your final grade for excessive absences. You can (and will) fail this class for excessive absences. To be clear, every absence after your third will cost you 1/3 of a letter grade on your course grade. Further, you will receive no credit if you do not participate in the class. If you received “A” grades on every assignment but earned no participation credit your course average would fall below “B+.” I expect you to be in class on time, and cell phones and pagers are not allowed in class at any time. If yours goes off, you will be asked to remove yourself and you will be marked absent for the day. You will also need to schedule an appointment with me during office hours to explain yourself, and you will have to complete a 20 page paper on a topic of my choosing.
  • Learning begins with reading and thinking, but is greatly enhanced by argument and debate with others who hold dissimilar views. While argument and debate is expected and encouraged, so too is respect for your fellow students with whom you will invariably disagree. Discussion is the fastest way to master the material at hand. Once you have spent time reading and thinking, your assignments will become much easier. It is important, and thus required, that you keep up with your reading. We will be reading in class extensively. It is important that you bring the assigned texts with you for each session. If you come to class without the assigned readings you will be asked to leave, and if you come to class without having done the reading you will be asked to leave.
  • Please note that this syllabus is not a contract, and should not be understood as such. I reserve the right to alter any of the terms and conditions contained herein as I deem necessary.


Academic Honesty:

The following paragraph appears on page 10 of the 2005-2006 student handbook:

Saint Vincent College assumes that all students come for a serious purpose and expects them to be responsible individuals who demand of themselves high standards of honesty and personal conduct. Therefore, it is College policy to have as few rules and regulations as are consistent with efficient administration and general welfare. Fundamental to the principle of independent learning and professional growth is the requirement of honesty and integrity in the performance of academic assignments, both in the classroom and outside, and in the conduct of personal life. Accordingly, Saint Vincent College holds its students to the highest standards of intellectual integrity and thus the attempt of any student to present as his or her own any work which he or she has not performed or to pass any examinations by improper means is regarded by the faculty as a most serious offense.

It is your responsibility to know and follow the rules of academic honesty. There are a number of forms of plagiarism, and some of them might surprise you. Please be sure you understand this matter fully before writing, as no excuse will be accepted after the fact…not even ignorance of the rules. I take plagiarism very seriously, and you should too. If you plagiarize an assignment in this, or in any of my classes, you will fail the course. There will be no exceptions.



Required Texts:

  1. Tom and Grace West, Four Texts on Socrates: Plato's Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito and Aristophanes’ Clouds, Revised Edition, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998). ISBN: 0801485746
  2. Aristotle, The Politics,' Carnes Lord, trans., (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984). ISBN: 0-226-02669-8
  3. Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, (New York: Dover Publications, 1992). ISBN: 0486272745
  4. John Locke, The Second Treatise of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration, (New York: Dover Publications, 2002). ISBN: 0-486-42464-2
  5. Rousseau: The Discourses and Other Early Political Writings, Victor

Gourevitch, ed. and trans., (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). ISBN: 0-521-42445-3

  1. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, (New York: Dover Publications, 2002). ISBN: 0-486-42130-9
  2. The Basic Writings of Nietzsche, Walter Kaufmann, ed. and trans., (New York: Modern Library, 1992). ISBN: 0-679-60000-0
  3. Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, (New York: Signet, 1998). ISBN: 0-451-52710-0



Course Outline:

I An Introduction to Classical Political Philosophy

Readings: Leo Strauss, “On Classical Political Philosophy” (handout).

II Plato

Readings: Plato, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, in West, Four Texts on Socrates.

III Aristotle

Readings: The Nicomachean Ethics, Book Ten, Chapter Nine, (handout). The Politics.

IV The Essence of Athens and Jerusalem

Readings: Pericles’ Funeral Oration, (handout). Deuteronomy 4:1-8, 5, entire, (handout).

V Machiavelli and Hobbes

Readings: Machiavelli, The Prince. Hobbes, Leviathan. Chapters 1-4, 12-15, 17-21, 26, 30, 31, (handout).

VI Locke

Readings: The Second Treatise.

VII Rousseau

Readings: First Discourse, Second Discourse.


Readings: On Liberty.

IX Nietzsche

Readings: The Genealogy of Morals, Beyond Good and Evil.

X What is Political Philosophy?

Readings: Leo Strauss, “What is Political Philosophy?” (handout).