Introduction to political philosophy

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Winter 2005

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 Aristotle: 15%

Comparison of Aristotle and Machiavelli: 15%

Critique of Hobbes: 20%

Final Paper: 35%

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 read and 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 Aristotle:
Did Aristotle approve of slavery? You will prepare a concise, accurate summary of Aristotle’s views on slavery. This will involve a very close reading of chapter 5 & 6 of book I. In addition, your interpretation must be consistent with what he says elsewhere in book I.

Your summary may not exceed 3 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: Analysis of Machiavelli:
Both Aristotle (in Books III and IV) and Machiavelli (in The Discourses on Livy) consider whether the common people, the nobles, or both should rule (in other words, whether democracy, oligarchy or a mixed regime is best). Is their reasoning on this point the same, or are there important points of disagreement? Identify and discuss the two or three 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 figure out the author’s general theory 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: Critique of Hobbes:
Hobbes argues that rational people, having experienced the inconveniences of the state of nature, would consent to absolute government. Your paper should take the position that Hobbes is incorrect that people would consent to absolute government. Explain his reasoning and explain precisely where he goes wrong. (Note: You might actually think Hobbes is right, but for the purposes of this assignment, make the best case you can that he is wrong.) You may find it helpful to draw on Locke’s argument for limited government in order to make your case.
Note: Your goal is to make a compelling case that Hobbes is wrong, so bare assertions that he’s wrong about human nature or the state of nature won’t do; you’ll have to offer a credible alternative account of those concepts, or demonstrate that even if his assumptions are correct, his reasoning is faulty. Your paper may not exceed 4 pages (12-point font, 1” margins, double-spaced). As always, you should have a clear, specific thesis statement (i.e. “Hobbes’ argument is incorrect because….”) This exercise will develop your ability to evaluate an argument critically and to formulate your own views on basic questions in political theory.
Paper 4: Final Paper:
You may choose from among the suggested topics on the next page. If none of these questions appeal to you, you should meet with me to discuss a different topic. Guidelines:

  • Your paper should cover at least three of the assigned theorists.

  • You should demonstrate the ability to accurately summarize, compare and critically analyze the texts.

  • You should have a clearly stated and well-supported thesis. That is, you should make an argument (tell us who’s right, where they all went wrong, why they argue the way they do – something that illuminates the arguments for us), rather than just telling us what each author said. Please note: I am expecting you to take a stand and express your own original ideas in this paper!

There is no page limit, but I expect this paper to be 7-9 pages.
Final paper suggested topics:

  1. Many political philosophers, such as Plato, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Rousseau have been criticized for undermining religious faith. Discuss what at least three of these theorists teach us about the relationship between religion and politics. Is the criticism a fair one?

  1. Is it ever right for a citizen to refuse to obey the law? Discuss at least three of the theorists we have read: what do they teach us about citizenship and the duty of political obligation? Who has the best argument?

  1. Does the ideal citizen have to be a man? Consider how at least three of the following theorists would answer that question: Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke.

  1. Liberalism has been criticized on the grounds that it puts too much emphasis on individual property rights, which makes it difficult for liberal regimes to justify redistribution of wealth and regulations designed to protect the environment. Drawing on Locke, MacPherson, and Rousseau, evaluate this argument.

  1. As many recent adventures in American foreign policy have taught us, one of the practical problems of setting up a new republic is ensuring it will be stable. How important is a well-crafted constitution (compared to leadership abilities of rulers, the character of the people, and other factors) to political stability? Consider what at least three theorists we have studied have to say about this issue, and draw some conclusions about the value of their constitutional theories to people trying to establish new regimes.

  1. Many of the theorists we have studied are deeply skeptical that simple democracy would work, and favor monarchy, mixed government, or at least separation of powers. What, if anything, is wrong with simple, direct democracy? Consider the critiques and defenses of democracy offered by at least three of the writers considered in this class. Are they right?

  1. Although the official American political creed declares that all humans are created equal, it’s pretty obvious that some people have more natural gifts and talents than others do. Consider what at least three political theorists teach us about the significance of natural inequality for politics. Is natural inequality a political problem? How should a political system deal with natural inequality?


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 ever right to criticize the community’s values? And is democracy a good idea?

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]

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

*Paper 1 due in class
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, 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
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, 29, 30

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

Hobbes, Ch. 29, 30

*Final rewrite of Aristotle paper due in class
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: continued

Rousseau, On Social Contract, Bk. I, Ch. 6-8; 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 Monday, March 15, by *NOON*, in my office.

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

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