Political Science 160: Political Philosophy A. Course Description This course is intended to introduce you to the seminal works of Western political philosophy, and thereby to introduce you to some of the fundamental questions of politics. What is the best way of life? What is a just society? Do people need politics to become good human beings, or is politics a corrupting force? Why does our government in the United States look and act like it does?
We will begin almost 2,500 years ago in Athens by considering the figure of Socrates, who was such a problem for this city that it put him to death. Texts by Aristophanes (a playwright/poet), Plato (a philosopher) and Xenophon (an historian) will help us probe the apparent tension between philosophy and politics. Next, we will turn to Aristotle’s Politics for the classic exposition of Classical political science. Aristotle will tell us, inter alia, about the naturalness of the city, economics and economic institutions, citizenship, the nature of justice, and the best regime.
After having explored these texts, we will turn to the Modern era, and first to Machiavelli, who broke decisively from the Ancient and Christian traditions. The Prince promises to entertain us with its shocking stories and to educate us about a political scheme concerned with how politics is actually practiced. From here, we will consider the intellectual foundations of our own system of government, first by reading Hobbes’ Leviathan, which sets forth the order known as liberalism; and second by reading Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, which softens the teaching of Hobbes and paves the way for liberal democracyas we know it today, especially as we see it practiced in America. But modernity, we must keep in mind, is not without critics, and we will conclude in a critical spirit by reading selected works of Rousseau and Mill, two thinkers who expressed profound reservations about liberalism and the way of life it promotes.
B. Required Texts Four Texts on Socrates, ed. and trans. by Thomas West and Grace Starry West (Cornell University Press)
Xenophon, Memorabilia, trans. by Amy Bonnette (on eReserve)
Aristotle, The Politics, trans. by Carnes Lord (University of Chicago Press)
Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. by Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr. (University of Chicago Press)
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Hackett Publishers)
John Locke, Second Treatise of Government (Hackett Publishers)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The First and Second Discourses, trans. by Roger and Judith Masters (Bedford/St. Martin’s Press)
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (Hackett Publishers)
While several translations of these books exist, you are required to purchase and read the translations cited above. These books are available for purchase at the Carleton Bookstore.
Moreover, you are encouraged to read the primary texts cited above exclusively. While I may recommend useful secondary sources over the course of the term, I am primarily concerned that you read and understand these thinkers on your own terms, and as they understood themselves. The best way to achieve this understanding, especially in an introductory course, is to grapple with the texts themselves.
C. Course Requirements As the above statement implies, these texts are difficult to penetrate, especially (but not only!) if this is your first time reading them. Accordingly, the most important requirement for this course is that you read the assigned passages carefully and before class, and that you are prepared to discuss them and to ask questions. I encourage you to read your assignments more than once (you will always be repaid generously for multiple readings of a philosophic text), and to work with your colleagues over the course of the term to enhance your understanding of these books.
While part of your final grade will include a mark for class participation, I am not concerned with the quantity of remarks that you make, but rather with the quality of those remarks. An excellent comment, in this case, will be a thoughtful one.
Your final grade will be determined as follows:
20%--First Essay, due October 7 (5 pages)
20%--Second Essay, due October 28 (5 pages)
20%--Third Essay, due November 16 (5 pages)
30%--Final Exam (blue book, scheduled for Sunday, November 20, 3:30-6 p.m.)
10%--Participation, Attendance, Lunch
We will talk about the essay and exam requirements in class.
D. Schedule Please read assigned texts before coming to class.
We may deviate from this schedule from time to time.
November 16: Conclusion and Review, Third Essay Due E. Disability Accommodations and Academic Honesty Any student who feels he or she may need an accommodation based on the impact of a disability should contact me privately to discuss specific needs. Please contact the Office of Disability Services for Students in the Wellness Center (x4464) to coordinate reasonable accommodations.
All students are expected to make themselves aware of Carleton’s policy regarding academic honesty, and to follow it strictly. The following two web pages are good places to start if you are unfamiliar with this policy:
Plagiarism or other violations of this policy will be punished severely.