Introduction to Political Philosophy

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Course Level:
Course Length:
13 Weeks


Political philosophy is the study of how we ought to order our lives together in order to live well: What does living well consist in?  Who belongs to the 'we' of political community?  This course will provide a semester-long introduction to major themes in political philosophy—justice, welfare, rights, authority, common good, liberty, coercion, among others—by considering selections from representative works by important figures in the Western intellectual tradition, including:


  • Plato, Republic
  • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics and Politics
  • Augustine, City of God
  • Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae
  • Nicolo Machiavelli, The Prince and Discourses
  • Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
  • Benjamin Constant, ‘Liberty of the Ancients and of the Moderns’
  • John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
  • Isaiah Berlin, ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’
  • John Rawls, A Theory of Justice
  • Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics
  • Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue

Readings will be drawn from Political Philosophy: the Essential Texts (Oxford, 2005), edited by Steven M. Cahn, in addition to selections of primary texts reproduced in a course packet.


Lectures will be given twice weekly, with readings assigned for each meeting.  Academic performance will be evaluated according to three criteria:

  • Attendance and participation in lecture and discussion section (10%)
  • Completion of two in-class exams, a mid-term and a final (25% each)
  • Completion of two essays on assigned topics (20% each)

Absences from lecture or discussion section must be excused by permission solicited in advance from the instructor or teaching assistant.  Late essays will be docked by one letter grade per day.  Requests for extensions on essay assignments must be made in advance to the instructor, and will be granted only in serious cases.  See syllabus for due dates.

Academic dishonesty will be treated severely.  Please consult the University website for policy details.



Week 1: Plato

  1. Cahn, PLATO
  2. Selections from Plato, Lawsand Republic

Week 2: Aristotle

  1. Nichomachean Ethics, books 5, 8-10
  2. Politics, books 1, 4, 8

Week 3: Augustine

  1. ‘Augustine’, From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought 100-1625(Eerdmans, 2000)
  2. City of God, books 1-2 [essay due]

Week 4: Aquinas

  1. Cahn, AQUINAS
  2. ‘Conscience’ and ‘Justice’ in Aquinas on Law, Morality, and Politics, ed. Richard J. Regan (Hackett)

Week 5: Machiavelli

  2. Selections from Machiavelli, The Prince

Week 6: Hobbes

  1. Cahn, HOBBES
  2. Hobbes, Leviathan,Part I ‘Of Man’ (selections)

Week 7: Hobbes

  1. Hobbes, Leviathan,Part II ‘Of Common-wealth’ (selections)
  2. EXAM

Week 8: Mill

  1. Mill, On Liberty, chapters 1-2
  2. Mill, On Liberty, chapter 3

Week 9: Constant & Berlin

  1. Benjamin Constant, ‘Liberty of the Ancients and Liberty of the Moderns’
  2. Isaiah Berlin, ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’

Week 10: Rawls

  1. Cahn, RAWLS
  2. Selections from Rawls, A Theory of Justice [essay due]

Week 11: Nozick

  1. Cahn, NOZICK
  2. Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, chapters 2-5

Week 12: Oakeshott

  1. Michael Oakeshott, ‘Rationalism in Politics’
  2. Oakeshott, The Politics of Faith and the Politics of Skepticism, chapters 1-4

Week 13: MacIntyre

  1. Alasdair MacIntyre, ‘The Claims of After Virtue: A Precis’, ed. Kelvin Knight, The MacIntyre Reader
  2. MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, ‘Liberalism transformed into a tradition’



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