Political Philosophy

Course Description:

Political philosophy is essentially the study of the ethics of how we, as humans, ought to co-exist and how we ought to structure our societies. It is the philosophical investigation of what justifies or delegitimates government, political decisions, and moral/normative social ideals. Political philosophers construct arguments regarding topics such as: authority, rights, liberty/freedom, equality, justice, democracy, duty/obligation, citizenship, political economy, distributive justice, and power. These arguments are then formed into the theories that underly our contemporary social and political ideas. 


This course will proceed (for the most part) historically, but we will dive deep into particular concepts along the way by asking questions such as: How does this philosopher view human nature? What is the source of duty/obligation? Who ought to hold authority over the masses? How should justice and equality factor into political structures? What is a “right” and where do they come from? Among other questions. But since this class proceeds historically, these topics will not (cannot) be addressed in any particular order, because they will return again and again throughout history. By the end of the semester students will be able to articulate, critique, and defend a normative viewpoint on these political topics and be able to incorporate philosophical texts into their argument.



Week 1: What to expect | The syllabus | Reading & Writing Philosophy


Week 2: The Republic by Plato | The Politics by Aristotle


Week 3: Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes | “Of the Origin of Justice and Property” & A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume | The Second Treatise by John Locke


Week 4: “The Social Contract” & “Discourse on the Origins of Inequality” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau | The Wealth of Nations & “Theory of Moral Sentiments” by Adam Smith

Week 5: "What is Property?” by Proudhon | “Alienated Labor” & “Communist Manifesto” by Karl Marx


Week 6: “On Liberty” by John Stewart Mill | "Essays on Anarchism" by Kropotkin


--- Midterm questions given end of week 6 to be due beginning of week 7---


Week 7: Dialectic of Enlightenment by Horkheimer & Adorno | The Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt


Week 8: "Conscience of a Conservative" by Barry Goldwater | “Capitalism and Freedom” by Milton Friedman | Anarchy, State, and Utopia by Robert Nozick


Week 9: "One-Dimensional Man" by Herbert Marcuse | Self Ownership, Freedom, and Equality by G.A. Cohen “Justice as Fairness” by John Rawls


Week 10: “Democracy’s Discontent” & “Political Liberalism” by Michael Sandel | “A Basic Income for All” by Philippe Van Parijs


Week 11: Justice and the Politics of Difference & “Five Faces of Oppression” by Iris Marion Young | Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach by Martha Nussbaum


Week 12: “Letter from Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King Jr. | “Justice, Deviance, and the Dark Ghetto” by Tommie Shelbie | The Racial Contract & “Revisionist Ontologies: Theorizing White Supremacy” by Charles Mills


--- First draft of final essays due (end of 13th week)---

Week 13: (TBD) Buffer for topics that extend longer than their assigned weeks (out of student interest) | Big picture conversations | Lesson: how philosophers give feedback


--- Peer response papers due ---

Week 14: Political topic of student’s choosing w/relevant philosophy readings provided by professor. (reading quizzes or weekly response paper still assigned)


Week 15: (TBD)


Finals week: ---Final essays due---