Posc 160-00 Political Philosophy

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POSC 160-00

Political Philosophy

Spring 2011

Class Hours: MW 11:10-12:20, F 12:00-1:00 PM

Classroom: Willis 205

Professor: Mihaela Czobor-Lupp

Office: Willis 418

Office Hours: MW: 3:15-5:15 and T: 3:30-4:45, or by appointment
Course Description
In this course we will explore and discuss ancient and modern responses to questions such as: What is the relationship between philosophy and politics? What are the qualities of a good citizen? What is a political regime? Which is the best political regime? Who should rule? What are the qualities of a good ruler? What is political power? What is the nature of man and how does this influence the arrangement of government? What is liberty? What is authority? Are political revolutions necessary? What is the nature of political change? What is the nature of private property? How does the existence of private property and of class structure affect politics? Can politics be reinvented outside capitalism?
In answering these questions we will understand the differences between ancient and modern political philosophy. We will also understand how modern political philosophers differed from each other in the way they theorized about politics and its relationship with moral, socio-economic, and cultural aspects.

Course objectives
To understand what political philosophy is: what are its main concerns and its specific manner of answering them;

To grasp the foundations of Western political philosophy, the way they have been set by Greek political philosophy, particularly, by Plato and Aristotle;

To learn about the specific concerns and ideas of ancient and, respectively, of modern political philosophy;

To understand the differences (and the similarities) between ancient and modern political philosophy;

To know the differences between modern approaches to politics;

To comprehend diverse modern arguments about the nature of man, the nature of government, the role and limits of political power, and about the relationship between socio-economic and political factors

To become better readers, thinkers, speakers, and writers
Achieving the Course Objectives:

  1. We will learn about the specific nature of political philosophy, particularly, of ancient and modern political philosophy by carefully and closely reading the following books:

Plato, Gorgias, translated, with introduction and notes by Donald J. Zeyl, Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis, 1987, ISBN: 9780872200166

Aristotle, Politics, translated and with an introduction, notes, and glossary by Carnes Lord, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1984, ISBN: 9780226026695

Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, translated with notes by George Bull, Penguin Books, London, 2003, ISBN: 9780140449150

Th. Hobbes, Leviathan, Cambridge University Press, 1996, ISBN: 9780521567978

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, Penguin Books, London, 2004, ISBN: 9780140432046

Im. Kant, Political Writings, translated by H.B. Nisbet, Cambridge University Press, 2000, ISBN: 9780521398374

John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, edited by Peter Laslett, Cambridge University Press, 1988, ISBN: 9780521357302

The Marx-Engels Reader, edited by Robert C. Tucker, W.W. Norton & Company, 1978, ISBN: 9780393090406

  1. We will also learn about political philosophy by writing three short essays.

  1. Moreover, an important part of the teaching/learning strategy in this course will be class discussion and class presentations. The class discussions will take place both in small groups, but also in the larger plenum of the class. You will also be expected to present a text of your choice from the reading list in class and use it as the framework for starting and guiding class discussion.

  1. We will also watch four movies, which will have scheduled screenings in the Library:

Agora will provide us with the framework for discussing the merits and limits of the Greek conception of politics;

Z will provide us with the framework for discussing Machiavelli’s and Hobbes’ conceptions of political power and politics;

Danton will provide us with the framework for discussing Burke’s and Kant’s views of the French Revolution;

The Working Class Goes to Heaven will provide us with the framework for discussing Locke’s and Marx’s conceptions of the relationship between private property and the values associated with it, and politics.

You will be required to apply the ideas that we discussed in class to analyze, interpret, and explain the political narratives that are presented in these four movies.

Schedule for the movie projections:

Course Requirements:

  1. Three short (two page) essays on topics provided by the professor:

First essay is due on April 18

Topic: Aristotle defines human beings as political animals. An important aspect of our political nature is speech. Apply Plato’s conception of the moral and political role of rhetoric, as it can be reconstructed from his criticism of the moral and political misuse of rhetoric by the sophists, to Aristotle’s view of our essential political nature. The expectation is that you put together a mini theory about the significance and the right use of rhetoric (language and speech) in politics.
Second essay is due on May 9

Topic: Compare Machiavelli’s and Hobbes’ arguments about the nature of political power, more precisely, compare their views about the sources of political power and about what it takes to secure political power.
Third essay is due on May 30

Topic: Imagine the kind of argument that Kant would have written as an answer to Burke’s criticism of the French Revolution. More precisely, imagine the extent to which Kant would have agreed/disagreed with Burke, as well as, how his overall view of the role of the French Revolution in universal and prophetic history compares with Burke’s view of the role of the French Revolution in the history of France, as well as in the European history.

  1. Class presentations (15%)

  1. Active and informed class participation (15%)

  1. One final exam (40%)

What is Expected from the Students?
Students will be expected to read, think, form arguments and counter-arguments, understand the fundamental concepts, and participate (in a critical and creative manner) in class discussion. That means that students must keep up with their reading assignments, watching the movies, and attending class regularly. Students must be fully prepared at all times to discuss the arguments and concepts from the previous readings. The best students will be knowledgeable, critical but balanced in their critical assessments, and will develop coherent and sound arguments that they can defend in their quizzes, in their exams, and in class discussion.

Academic dishonesty:
"All assignments, quizzes, and exams must be done on your own. Note that academic dishonesty includes not only cheating, fabrication, and plagiarism, but also includes helping other students commit acts of academic dishonesty by allowing them to obtain copies of your work. You are allowed to use the Web for reference purposes, but you may not copy material from any website or any other source without proper citations. In short, all submitted work must be your own.


Cases of academic dishonesty will be dealt with strictly. Each such case will be referred to the Academic Standing Committee via the Associate Dean of Students or the Associate Dean of the College. A formal finding of responsibility can result in disciplinary sanctions ranging from a censure and a warning to permanent dismissal in the case of repeated and serious offenses.


The academic penalty for a finding of responsibility can range from a grade of zero in the specific assignment to an F in this course." (Office of the Dean)


March 28: Introduction – What is political philosophy? Why study it?

Differences and similarities between ancient and modern political philosophy

Part I – Politics and Philosophy: Plato and Aristotle
Section A – Plato: Politics, Philosophy, and Rhetoric
March 30: Power and justice: what defines real (political) power?

Reading: Plato, Gorgias, 447a-465e
April 1: The best way of life: what defines good rule?

Reading: Plato, Gorgias, 466a-482c
April 4: The ideal ruler and the true art of politics: the aim of politics (Plato’s argument against the sophists)

Reading: Plato, Gorgias, 482d-527e

Section B – Aristotle: Politics, Philosophy, and Ethics
April 6 : The place and role of political partnership in the human life

Reading: Aristotle, Politics, Book 1
April 8: Citizenship, qualifications for citizenship; the difference between citizen and the good man

Reading: Aristotle, Politics, Book 3, Chapters 1-13, 18
April 11: The nature of the political regime, types of political regimes, and the stability of political regimes

Reading: Aristotle, Politics, Book 4, Chapters 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, and 15, Book 5, chapters 1-3, 5-8
April 13: The best (practicable) political regime

Reading: Aristotle, Politics, Book 4, Chapters 8, 9, 11, Book 7, chapters 1-3, 7, 13-15, Book VIII, Chapter 3
April 15: Discussion: Agora: Contemplation versus action, reason versus emotion: the merits and the limits of the Greek conception of politics

Part II – Political Power and Human Desires: Machiavelli and Hobbes
Section C – Machiavelli and the New Prince
April 18: Politics and war

Reading: Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapters I-XIV
April 20: What makes a prince successful? Machiavelli’s conception of virtu and Fortuna

Reading: Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapters XV-XXVI

Section D – Hobbes about the Modern Foundations of Political Power
April 22: Speech, Reason, and Power

Reading: Hobbes, Leviathan, Introduction, Part One, Chapters iv, v, vi, viii, x, and xi

April 25: The natural condition of man: natural law and natural rights

Reading: Hobbes, Leviathan, Part One, Chapters xiii, xiv, xv, and xvi

April 27: The commonwealth

Reading: Hobbes, Leviathan, Part Two, Chapters xvii, xviii, xix, xxi, xxx, Part Four, Chapter xlvi

April 29: Discussion: Z: The argument for absolute power

Part III – The Dangers and the Promise of the French Revolution: Burke and Kant

Section E – Burke: The Destruction, Terror, and Violence of the French Revolution
May 4: Change and conservation

Reading: Burke 97-143, 275-284, 297-306

May 6: No class
May 9: Power, liberty, and authority

Reading: Burke 145-154, 183-200, 204-214, 244-249, 252-259

Section F – Kant: The Ideal of the French Revolution and the Enthusiasm of the Public
May 11: Kant’s conception of history

Reading: Kant, Political Writings, “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose”

May 13: Prophetic history and the interpretation of the French Revolution

Reading: Kant, Political Writings, “The Contest of Faculties: A Renewed Attempt to Answer the Question: ’Is Human Race Continually Improving?’”
May 16: Discussion: Danton: Perspectives on the French Revolution: terror or freedom?

Part IV – Capitalism, Private Property, and Politics: Locke and Marx
Section G – Locke: Private property, liberty, and the ends of government
May 18: The state of nature: liberty, reason, and acquisition

Reading: Locke, Two Treatises of Government, Book II, Chapter II, III, V, VI, VIII
May 20: The ends of government

Reading: Locke, Two Treatises of Government, Book II, Chapters IX-XIX

Section H – Marx: Private property, alienation, and the end of politics
May 23: Labor, alienation, and the power of money in bourgeois society

Reading: Marx, from The Marx-Engels Reader, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, pp. 70-81, 101-106
May 25: Private property and communism

Reading: Marx, from The Marx-Engels Reader, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, pp 81- 93
May 27: The end of politics

Reading: Marx, from The Marx-Engels Reader, Manifesto of the Communist Party, 473-491
May 30: Discussion: The Working class goes to heaven: a discussion of alienation and class struggle in contemporary capitalism
June 1: Final Review

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