Through an in-depth study of philosophical texts, students in this course examine fundamental questions about how and why humans organize themselves into political communities. Through substantial excerpts of classical works by thinkers such as Aristotle, Plato, Locke, Hobbes and Kropotkin, students consider questions such as: do we need laws? what is the basis for government's authority to rule? What are humans like naturally; are we cooperative or agressive? We then move on to consider modern philosophers' conception of government where we debate the purpose of government in our lives today. Some semesters we study Plato's early dialogues as well, which raise questions about what it means to be "righteous," as well as the relationship of philosophy to politics and political action.
The emphasis throughout the course is on learning how to do close textual analysis of dense, complex texts and on participating in rich class discussions where students learn how to articulate critical responses to open-ended questions, supporting their arguments with evidence from the readings.
Students are required to write shorter essays (2-4 pages typed) on each major philosopher studied. Sample essay questions might include:
--Aristotle defines things in terms of their function or "telos." Is this way of seeing humans and their institutions helpful or problematic?
--Explain and then critique Hobbes' reasons for saying that we do need government.
In class essay comparing Nozick, Walzer and Rawls
Frequent written responses to readings which include outlining texts, identifying and evaluating key arguments and writing questions for class discussions