Political Philosophy

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.

Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes (excerpt)
Politics by Aristotle (excerpt)
The Republic by Plato (short excerpt)
Uselessness of Laws by Peter Kropotkin (excerpt)
On Mutual Aid by Kropotkin (excerpt)
Nichomachean Ethics by Aristotle (excerpt)
The Last Judgement by Karl Capek
Second Treatise of Government by John Locke (excerpt)
"The Entitlement Theory" by Robert Nozick (exerpt)
"Security, Welfare and the Communal Provision" by Michael Walzer
"The Singer Solution to World Poverty" by Peter Singer
A Theory of Justice by John Rawl (excerpt)
On Justice by Michael Sandel (excerpt)
The Ones who Walked Away from Omelas by Ursula LeGuin
Euthyphro by Plato
Apology by Plato
Crito by Plato
Interim Assessments: 

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.

Significant Assignments: 

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

Sample PBATs: 
Comparative Analytical Paper: What is the relationship betweeen Morality and Government?
Comparative Analytical Paper: Is government "natural" or "unnatural" for humans?