History of Political Philosophy

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Course Length:
15 weeks

Course Description

Since the 19th century to the present, nearly all Western political philosophers have maintained that democratic forms of government, focused squarely on the foundational concepts of liberty and equality, are vastly superior to any alternative. But among many of the most brilliant thinkers of ancient Greece and Rome, democracy was regarded as one of the least tenable and most dangerous forms of political organization precisely because of the threat it posed to equality and freedom. What explains this dramatic reversal and change of opinion? In this class we will try to answer this question by exploring the history of political philosophy from ancient Greece to the French and American democratic revolutions of the 18th century, carefully examining many of the crucial concepts, distinctions, and arguments of political philosophers in the ancient, medieval, and early modern world.


Learning Objectives and Outcomes

First and foremost, this class is designed to familiarize students with the history of philosophical thought about Western politics from ancient Greece to the 18th century. By the class's end, students will be able to recount major contributions by key figures in each of the four historical periods we will be studying. Second, because of its emphasis on classroom discussion and reading quizzes, this class will develop students' ability to read difficult texts carefully and critically. Third, and finally, students will enhance their argumentative and writing skills by producing an analytical philosophy paper that defends a clearly defined thesis.


Required Texts

  • The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought, vol.1 Broadview, 2008 ISBN: 978-1-55111-742-3


Requirements and Evaluation

  • Attendance: Each student is allowed TWO unexcused absences after first week. Each additional unexcused absence will result in a lowering of that student’s class grade by one full letter. Any student who does not show up for class during first week will be sent an email enquiry about these absences; if the student does not respond to the email by noon on Sunday following first week, he or she will be automatically dropped from the class.
  • Participation: 25% of the course grade. Asking good questions, being prepared to answer questions about course material, and engaging in classroom conversation are all important parts of a philosophical education.
  • Reading Quizzes: 50% of course grade. There will be 10 quizzes, each of which will be based on reading assignments.
  • Paper: 25% of the course grade. There will be one, six to eight-page paper due the last week of class. Paper topics will be assigned by the Professor.
  • Final Exam: 25% of the course grade. The final exam will be cumulative and will take place at the time designated by the registrar’s office.


Additional Policies

  • Making Up Missed Assignments: Students will only be allowed to make up tests for extraordinary and overwhelmingly tragic reasons. Students MUST take the final exam at the officially designated time.
  • Plagiarism and Cheating: At no time in this course should a student turn in someone else’s work as his or her own. Any student who is caught engaging in dishonest behavior will be reported to the administration and, at a minimum, punished with a lower grade.
  • Student Disabilities: If you have a disability and will need additional resources or accommodations to succeed in this class, please notify me. I will be happy to help you, and we will work out an individualized plan tailored to your needs. All students with a disability must be registered with Disability Services.
  • Note for Philosophy Majors and Minors: It is the official policy of the Department of Philosophy and Religion that a student must receive a grade of C or better in every course he or she wishes to use as credit towards a major or minor.


Tentative Schedule

City-State Politics and the Rise of Rome (2 weeks)

  • Week One
    • Tues: Thucydides
      • Pericles’ Funeral Oration
    • Thur: Plato
      • Republic, Book VIII and IX (selections)
  • Week Two
    • Tues: Aristotle
      • Politics, Book I.1-2
      • Politics, Book III.6-13
      • Politics, Book VII.1-3, 13
    • Thur: Aristotle & Polybius
      • Politics, Book IV.1-11
      • The Histories (selections)

Catholicism, Protestantism, and Neo-Roman Republicanism (3 weeks)

  • Week Three
    • Tues: Augustine
      • City of God (selections)
    • Thur: Aquinas
      • Summa Contra Gentiles (selections)
      • Summa Theologiae (selctions)
  • Week Four
    • Tues: Martin Luther & John Calvin
      • Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed (selections)
      • On Civil Government (selections)
    • Thur: Machiavelli
      • The Prince, Dedication, Chaps 5-14
  • Week Five
    • Tues: Machiavelli
      • The Prince, Chaps 15-26
    • Thur: Machiavelli
      • Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius (selections)

The Modern State, Rights, and Political Economy (7 weeks)

  • Week Six
    • Tues: Hobbes
      • Leviathan, Introduction, Part 1 Chaps.10-11
    • Thur: Hobbes
      • Leviathan, Part 1 Chaps 13-16
  • Week Seven
    • Tues: Hobbes
      • Leviathan, Part 2 Chaps 17-21
    • Thur: Hobbes
      • Leviathan, Part 2 Chaps 26,29-30
  • Week Eight
    • Tues: Locke
      • The Second Treatise of Civil Government, Preface, II. Chaps 1-4
    • Thur: Locke
      • The Second Treatise of Civil Government, II. Chaps 5-10
  • Week Nine
    • Tues: Locke
      • The Second Treatise of Civil Government, II. Chaps 11-17
    • Thur: Locke
      • The Second Treatise of Civil Government, II. Chaps 18-19
      • A Letter Concerning Toleration
  • Week Ten
    • Tues: Rousseau
      • Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men
    • Thur: Rousseau
      • Appendix 1,2,3, and 4 to Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among Men
  • Week Eleven
    • Tues: Rousseau
      • On the Social Contract or Principles of Political Right, Forword, Books 1-2
    • Thur: Rousseau
      • On the Social Contract or Principles of Political Right, Books 3-4
  • Week Twelve
    • Tues: Kant
      • To Perpetual Peace
    • Thur: Adam Smith
      • Wealth of Nations (selections)
      • A Theory of Moral Sentiments (selections)
      • The Democratic Revolutions of the 18th Century (3 weeks)
  • Week Thirteen
    • Tues: Jefferson, Friedrich Gentz
      • The Declaration of Independence
      • The French and American Revolutions, pp.1-38 (blackboard)
    • Thurs: Friedrich Gentz
      • The French and American Revolutions, pp.38-73 (blackboard)
  • Week Fourteen
    • Tues: Hamilton, Jay, Madison
      • Federalist Papers: 10,14, 15, 23, 51 (blackboard)
    • Thur: Hamilton, Jay, Madison
      • Federalist Papers: 39, 49, 63, 70, 78 (blackboard)
  • Week Fifteen
    • Tues: The Anti-Federalists
      • Centinel: Letter I (blackboard)
      • The Federal Farmer: Letter I, II (blackboard)
      • Brutus: Essay I, II, XV, XVI (blackboard)
      • Address by Denatus (blackboard)
      • Address by Melancton Smith (blackboard)
    • Thurs: Benjamin Constant
      • The Liberty of the Ancient Compared with that of the Moderns