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45.206 Introduction to Political Philosophy

TTH 9:30am-10:45am                            Spring Semester 2010

(general education humanities and ethics)

Professor Eric S. Nelson                                                                                                                                                                                    Email: Eric_Nelson at
Office: Olney 101b                                                                                                                                                                                                  Telephone: 978-934-3996

Spring Office Hours: TTH 12:45pm-1:45pm, 3:30-5:00pm, and by appointment.

Course Description
Political philosophy is concerned with basic questions about community, public life, and social organization. This course will address issues such as the rights of the individual in relation to the power of the state and society; the nature and legitimacy of political authority and democracy; the significance of power, economics, justice and equality in social life; and the duties and responsibilities of citizens. We will also consider the philosophical meaning of communitarianism, liberalism, and republicanism, individualism, capitalism, and socialism, as well as the role of class, race, and gender in politics.

The primary goals of this course are for students to:

(1) become familiar with major themes and figures in western political philosophy,
(2) develop skills in applying philosophical reflection to concrete problems,
(3) become proficient at writing essays and other assignments,
(4) detect and address weaknesses in arguments,
(5) collaborate with other students, and
(6) learn how to present and support ideas in public.

Course Assignments

1. Three Exams = 60% of final course grade.

2. Three shared dialogical reflection papers (4-5 pages) = 20% of final grade.

3. Class Attendance and Participation = 20% of final grade.

Required Text: Steven M. Cahn (Editor); Political Philosophy: The Essential Texts. Oxford University Press , 2004, ISBN: 0195177088




Reading Assignment (for that day)

1. Jan. 26, T

Introduction to the Class and Political Philosophy

I. Socrates and Plato: Politics as Justice and Power

2. Jan. 28, TH

Was Socrates wrong? Plato, Defense of Socrates

Reading: Cahn, pages 5-21

3. Feb. 2, T

What does one owe society? Plato, Defense of Socrates continued and Crito

Reading: Cahn, pages 22-30

4. Feb. 4, TH

Does might make for right? Plato, Republic, Book I

Reading: Cahn, pages 31-51

5. Feb. 9, T

Why political society? Plato, Republic, Books II-III

Reading: Cahn, pages 51-65

6. Feb. 11, TH

Society and Justice: Plato, Republic, Book IV

Reading: Cahn, pages 65-79

7. Feb. 16, T

no class, Monday schedule

8. Feb. 18, TH

Plato, Republic, Book V-VI; Shared Dialogue and Reflection Assignment 1

Reading: Cahn, pages 79-95

9. Feb. 23, T

Plato, Republic, Book VI-VII; Assignment 1 due

Reading: Cahn, pages 95-114

10. Feb. 25, TH

(In-Class) Exam 1

II. Power, Equality, and the Social Contract

11. March 2, T

Power as Virtue? Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

Reading: Cahn, 188- 202

12. March 4, TH

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

Read pages 224-234

13. March 9, T

John Locke, Second Treatise of Government

Reading: Cahn, pages 246-260

14. March 11, TH

John Locke, Second Treatise of Government

Reading: Cahn, pages 260-273

*Spring Break (University Closed)*

15.-16. March 23 and 25

Shared Dialogue and Reflection Assignment 2

17. March 30, T

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

Reading: Cahn, pages 278-291

18. April 1, TH

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality and Of the Social Contract

Reading: Cahn, pages 291-305

19. April 6, T

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Of the Social Contract

Reading: Cahn, pages 305-320

20. April 8, TH

Does the social contract apply between nations? Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace

Reading: Cahn, pages 379-388

21. April 13, T

(In-Class) Exam 2

III. Power and Self-Determination

22. April 15, TH

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations

Reading: Cahn, pages 334-349

23. April 20, T

G. W. F. Hegel, Philosophy of Right, Introduction to the Philosophy of History

Reading: Cahn, pages 392-406

24. April 22, TH

Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts

Reading: Cahn, pages 410-417

25. April 27, T Shared Dialogue and Reflection Assignment 3  

26. April 29, TH

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Communist Manifesto. Assignment 3 due

Reading: Cahn, pages 423-436

27. May 4, T

Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge

Reading: Cahn, pages 511-524

28. May 6, TH

Jürgen Habermas, Three Normative Models of Democracy, On the Internal Relation Between the Rule of Law and Democracy

Reading: Cahn, 527-540

29. May 11, T

Martha C. Nussbaum, The Feminist Critique of Liberalism and (take-home) final exam /exam 3

Reading: Cahn, 545-563

May 18, T, Take-Home Final Due by 4pm