Introduction to political philosophy

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Winter 2006

Professor Kimberly Smith

Office Hours: MW 9-11, F 1-2

Office: Willis 418

Phone: 4123


This course surveys Western political thought. Our goal is to learn how to read, discuss, think about and write about problems of political theory, including: how and whether to achieve political stability, what the relationship between the citizen and the state should be, whether democracy is a good idea, why or whether we’re obligated to obey the law, and many others too numerous to mention. By the end of this course you should be able to explain these problems (even if you can’t yet solve them), as well as make sense complicated, hard-to-understand texts and explain those texts to other, less experienced readers.

This is a lecture and discussion course, with a strong emphasis on discussion. You are expected to complete the readings before class and come prepared to participate in a lively and thoughtful manner.

Four Texts on Socrates

Aristotle, The Politics (trans. Reeve)

Machiavelli, The Prince (trans. Mansfield)

Machiavelli, Discourses on Livy (trans. Mansfield & Tarcov)

Hobbes, Leviathan

Locke, Second Treatise on Government

Ritter & Bondanella, Rousseau’s Political Writings
**Readings marked [R] are on reserve at the library


Your grade will be calculated as follows:
Summary of Crito: 15%

Comparison of Aristotle and Machiavelli: 20%

Comparison of Plato and Hobbes: 20%

Critical Analysis: 30%

Participation: 15%
**All papers may be rewritten as often as you like for a new grade.

**All papers are due on the day and time specified in the syllabus. I do not normally accept late papers, except under dire circumstances. That means you will receive no credit for a paper that is not turned in on time.

**Participation: Your participation grade will be based on the frequency and thoughtfulness of your contributions to class discussion. Attendance alone does not count as participation.
WRITING PORTFOLIOS [FRESHMEN: THIS APPLIES TO YOU!]: If you’re working on a writing portfolio, the papers in this class will satisfy the following criteria:

  1. From a Social Science class;

  2. From a WR course;

  3. Provides interpretation of a text

  4. Shows ability to articulate and support a thesis-driven argument

Remember, if you are going to use a paper in your portfolio, you must have me fill out an authentication form!

Paper Assignments
Political theorists write about texts in order to explain them to less experienced or more confused readers. It’s also a way to make sure you really understand what you’ve read. Since the goal is to clarify your ideas and communicate them successfully, you will be evaluated on how easy your paper is to understand, as well as how helpful your insights are to gaining a deeper appreciation of the text.
A note on thesis statements: A thesis statement tells the reader what you will argue. It does not merely tell the reader what the essay is about. In academic writing, you should not keep the reader guessing what your argument is. The first paragraph should include a clearly stated position that the rest of the essay will support. In addition, the thesis should be interesting. That is, it should be a point that isn’t self-evident or that takes a side in an on-going controversy. A good approach is to set up a puzzle in the introductory paragraph – something confusing about the texts that you can explain.
Documentation: In all your papers, be sure to provide adequate support in the form of quotations and citations to the text. No outside research is necessary for these assignments, so you do not need to include a bibliography. Please see p. 4 of this syllabus for instructions on citation form.
Paper 1: Summary of The Crito:
In The Crito, Socrates argues that he should submit to punishment even though the judgment was not just. Summarize his arguments for submitting to an unjust law. For this assignment, you do not need to evaluate the argument; I just want you to explain, clearly and accurately, what the arguments are.

Your summary may not exceed 2 pages (12-pt font, 1” margins, double-spaced). This exercise will develop your ability to understand a complex text, identify its central arguments and communicate them simply and accurately. Critical analysis of the text is not part of this assignment.

Paper 2: Comparison of Aristotle and Machiavelli:
Both Aristotle (in Books III and IV) and Machiavelli (in The Discourses on Livy) conclude that a mixed regime (in which the commoners and the nobles share power) is the best practicable regime. Compare their arguments on this point: Is their reasoning the same, or are there important points of disagreement? In other words, do they reach the same conclusion for the same reasons, or for different reasons? Identify and discuss the most important points of agreement and/or disagreement.
Your paper may not exceed 3 pages (12-pt font, 1” margins, double-spaced). This exercise will develop your ability to explain the author’s chain of reasoning when it isn’t laid out systematically for you, to compare different theories and to identify the fundamental principles of a theory. Critical analysis is not necessary for this assignment.
Paper 3: Comparison of Plato and Hobbes:
In your first paper, you summarized Plato’s arguments for obeying an unjust law. Hobbes offers his own arguments about why citizens must submit to laws even if they think those laws are unjust. Compare Plato’s arguments and Hobbes’. Is their reasoning on this point the same, or are there important points of disagreement? In other words, do they reach the same conclusion for the same reasons, or for different reasons? Identify and discuss the most important points of agreement and/or disagreement.
Your paper may not exceed 3 pages (12-point font, 1” margins, double-spaced). As always, you should have a clear, specific thesis statement.
Paper 4: Final Paper: Critical Analysis
Choose one of the following arguments to critique. Explain the author’s reasoning and explain precisely where he goes wrong. Please note: these are difficult problems, so you will need to take your time, think hard, talk to your classmates, talk to me, and draw on all the readings and class discussions to develop an insightful and creative argument.

  1. Plato has Socrates argue in The Apology that citizens should be taught to question the laws and fundamental values of a regime. Your paper should argue that Socrates is incorrect, and that the state must put some limits on such criticism. (You may find Rousseau and Hobbes useful in developing your critique).

  1. Aristotle argues in The Politics that political status should be based on a person’s natural abilities, so citizenship should be denied to people incapable of contributing to the regime’s goals. Your paper should argue that Aristotle is incorrect and that we should ignore natural inequalities in determining political status. (You may find Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau useful in developing your critique.)

  1. Machiavelli argues in The Prince that rulers must be willing to be cruel, deceptive and generally vicious. Your paper should argue that Machiavelli is incorrect and that rulers should aspire to be virtuous. (You may find Aristotle, Locke, and Plamenatz useful in developing your critique).

  1. Hobbes argues that rational people, having experienced the inconveniences of the state of nature, would consent to absolute government. Your paper should argue that Hobbes is incorrect that people would consent to absolute government. (You may find Locke useful in developing your critique).

  1. Locke argues that a chief purpose of government is to protect one’s natural right to property, because property rights are an important component of personal liberty. Your paper should argue that Locke is incorrect that protecting property rights is important to protecting personal liberty. (You may find MacPherson and Rousseau useful in developing your critique).

  1. Rousseau argues that the church must be subordinate to the state, in order to maintain unity and ensure that religious teachings don’t undermine civic virtue. Your paper should argue that Rousseau is incorrect and that the state is obligated to grant citizens a broad degree of religious freedom. (You may find Locke and Plato useful in developing your critique.)

Your paper should not exceed 5 pages (12-point font, 1” margins, double-spaced). As always, you should have a clear, specific thesis statement.

Your papers will receive numerous comments, corrections and suggestions. All of these comments should be taken as suggestions rather than instructions. However, even if my comment doesn’t make any sense at all, you should take the mere fact that I commented as a strong indication that something about that sentence or passage is creating problems for the reader. You can always talk to me about your paper, but you should also make use of the Writing Assistant, the Write Place and other resources for writing on campus.
Political scientists are usually writing in order to clarify complex and difficult questions over which there is some controversy. Our goal is to address important questions, offer valuable insights, and make complicated arguments clear and simple to understand. So, we value clarity in writing and we want to read papers that are interesting and easy to follow. Therefore, in grading your paper, I will be attending to these things:

  • Is there a thesis? Is it an interesting thesis? (Does it make an unexpected or counterintuitive point? Does it take a side in a controversy?)

  • Is the argument clear, direct, and easy to follow? Are there good transitions between paragraphs?

  • Is the argument supported with abundant quotes and examples from the text? Does the author have a good understanding of the texts s/he is talking about? Are the references to the text documented properly? (See below)

  • Is the prose lively and engaging––not overly florid, stiff, awkward?

  • Did this paper help me see the texts under discussion in a new way, or notice something new in the texts?


Whenever you quote from a text, paraphrase someone else’s argument, or rely on an idea developed in depth by someone else, you must tell the reader precisely where the quote, argument or idea came from. In other words, you must cite your sources. There are two standard citation systems: the documentary-note system and the author-date system (also sometimes called MLA, parenthetical or in-text citation).

  • The documentary-note system requires that you put your sources in a footnote, with all the required bibliographic information.1

  • The author-date system requires that you put the author (or, if there is no author, the title), date of the work, and the page of the text, in a parenthetical at the end of the sentence (Chicago Manual of Style 1993, 493). The MLA version of this system leaves out the date: just cite the author and page. Then you include a list of references at the end of the paper with a complete bibliographic entry for each source you cite.

Social scientists use both of these systems, depending on what kind of paper they are writing. It is best to use the documentary-note system when you are citing lots of different sources or lots of weird sources (like government reports, interviews, etc.) It’s best to use the parenthetical system when you’re citing a small number of sources, and when you’re going to make lots of references to the same source. The MLA system is best when you’re doing critical analysis of a literary or philosophical text, because this is the system used most often by journals that publish those kinds of papers.

In this class, you will conduct critical analysis of philosophical texts. Your papers will typically cite only one, two, or three texts, and you’ll be making lots of references to the same text. So you should use the MLA parenthetical system. For more information on proper citation form, see the MLA Handbook or the Chicago Manual of Style, both of which are available in the library.
Please note: I expect students to learn proper citation form on their own or with the help of research librarians or tutors at the Write Place. I will comment on your citation form only if citations are missing or if your documentation is wildly wrong and distracting.

Course Outline
Class 1: What’s Political Theory?
Class 2: What do you owe the state?

Pericle’s Funeral Oration, from Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War [R]

Class 3: Is it acceptable to criticize your community’s fundamental values?

Plato, Apology

Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Ch. 2: “Human Being and Citizen: A Beginning to the

Study of Plato’s Apology of Socrates.” [R]

Class 4: Is it ever right to resist an unjust law?

Plato, Crito

Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Ch. 16: “Citizen and Human Being:

Thoreau, Socrates, and Civil Disobedience.” [R]

*Paper 1 due on Thurs, Jan 12, at 12:00 noon in my office (or via e-mail).
Class 5: Aristotle’s political philosophy

Aristotle, The Politics, Bk I

Class 6: Who should be a citizen (or, what sort of constitution is best)?

Aristotle Bk III

*short assignment due in class: questions on Bk. III
Class 7: Is democracy the best regime?

Aristotle Bk III (again) and Bk IV ch. 2, 8, 9, 11, 12

Class 8: How to build a stable regime

Aristotle Bk V ch. 1-11

Class 9: Machiavelli’s political philosophy

Machiavelli, The Prince, through ch. XIV

Class 10: Should a ruler be morally good?

The Prince, to the end

Class 11: How to build a stable regime (Pt. II)

Discourses on Livy, Dedication, Preface, Bk I, Ch. 1 – 10, 16-18; Bk III, Ch. 1– 9

*short assignment due in class: questions on Discourses
Class 12: Should religion serve the state?

Discourses, Bk. I, ch 11-15; Bk II, Intro-Ch. 5

Class 13: Machiavelli on trial
*Final rewrite of Crito paper due in class
Class 14: Interpreting Machiavelli

Pitkin, Fortune is a Woman, Ch. 6 [R]

Plamenatz, In Search of Machiavellian Virtù [R]
Class 15: Hobbes’ political philosophy

Hobbes, Ch. 1-12

*Paper 2 due in class
Class 16: continued

Hobbes 13-21

*short assignment due: questions on Hobbes
Class 17: Is it ever right to resist an unjust law? (Pt. II)

Hobbes, Ch. 29, 30

Class 18: Locke’s response to Hobbes

Locke, Second Treatise of Government, Ch. 1 - 9

Class 19: Is democracy the best regime? (Pt. II)

Locke, Ch. 10 -15

Class 20: Is it ever right to resist an unjust law? (Pt. III)

Locke, Ch. 16- end

Class 21: Is Locke responsible for global warming?

Locke, Ch. 5

MacPherson, Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, pp. 194-220 [R]
Class 22: The Dark Side of Natural Rights (lecture)
*Paper 3 due in class
Class 23: Are Aristotle, Hobbes and Locke all wrong?

Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, though Part One (pp. 4-34)

*Final rewrite of Machiavelli paper due in class
Class 24: Rousseau’s political philosophy

Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, Part Two

Class 25: Freedom without Rights?

Rousseau, On Social Contract, Bk. I, Ch. 1, 4-8; Bk. II, Ch. 1-4, 6,7

Class 26: continued

Rousseau, On Social Contract, Bk. III, Ch. 16-17, 4, 9; Bk. IV, Ch. 7-8

Class 27: Interpreting Rousseau

Melzer, The Natural Goodness of Man, Ch. 1 & 5

*Final paper due in class
Class 28: Lecture: Rousseau and the French Revolution

*Final rewrites of Hobbes critique due in class

Final rewrites of final paper due Mon. March 13, by *NOON*, in my office

1 Chicago Manual of Style, 14th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), p. 493.

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