Social and Political Philosophy

Philosophy 33, Spring 2014

An overview of the course

Political philosophy is about the nature of the state. It tries to answer questions such as these. “Should we have a state at all?” “What is a just state or society like?” “What powers does the state have?” “Should individuals obey the state?” The course will cover some of the historically prominent answers that combine theories of human nature, ethics, and social life. Our discussions will center on the theories of Plato, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Robert Nozick, and John Rawls. The syllabus seeks to chart a path between a survey of different philosopher’s views and specialized study of any one of them. We will give thorough attention to the central issues with each philosopher’s political thought.

The materials make heavy demands on their readers’ analytical and interpretive skills. Our discussions and writing assignments will focus on the arguments in these works. That is where your analytical skills will come into play. Since we are reading works from different periods in history, we will also have to work hard at interpreting material that is written in ways that are unfamiliar and that reflects the concerns of different kinds of societies.

The class

Class picture


The syllabus (PDF) contains a schedule of topics for discussion, readings, and assignments. It also describes the standards for grades and other policies for the class.


Assignments will be posted here and on Sakai.

The assignments for this course include:

  1. First paper topics (PDF)
  2. Second paper topics (PDF)
  3. Final exam preview (PDF)

You may want to consult my advice on writing philosophy papers.


The best way for registered students to access the site is through Sakai. The Sakai site has links to everything you see here but it also has announcements and pdf files of the readings. When the term ends, the Sakai site will no longer be published but this site will still be here.

Contact Michael Green

My office is Pearsons 207. My email address and office phone number are available from the Pomona College directory: select Faculty/Staff and enter my name.

My home page has links to websites for my other courses.

Michael Green


  1. January 21. Overview
  2. January 23. Glaucon’s challenge
  3. January 28. Plato on the origins of the state
  4. January 30. Justice in the city
  5. February 4. Justice in the soul :: Justice in the city and the soul (handout, PDF)
  6. February 6. Questions about the guardians
  7. February 11. Injustice in city and soul
  8. February 13. The state of nature
  9. February 18. Laws of nature :: Hobbes’s moral philosophy (handout, PDF)
  10. February 20. Social contracts
  11. February 25. Hobbes on liberty
  12. February 27. Hobbes on punishment :: Sovereigns vs. Subjects (handout, PDF)
  13. March 4. Locke on rights
  14. March 6. Locke on property :: Outline of Locke on property :: Background on property (handout, PDF)
  15. March 11. Consent and the social contract
  16. March 13. Right to revolution
  17. March 18. Spring break
  18. March 20. Spring break
  19. March 25. Utilitarianism
  20. March 27. Mill on liberty of thought and expression :: Mill’s Harm Principle (handout, PDF)
  21. April 1. Mill on liberty of action
  22. April 3. Nozick on rights
  23. April 8. Nozick on justice
  24. April 10. Scheffler on Nozick
  25. April 15. Rawls on libertarianism
  26. April 17. Rawls's theory :: The Original Position (handout, PDF)
  27. April 22. Arguments for Rawls’s Principles :: Rawls’s Principles of Justice (handout, PDF)
  28. April 24. Rawls on utilitarianism :: Utilitarianism and the original position (handout, PDF)
  29. April 29. Rawls on liberty :: Rawls on liberty (handout, PDF)
  30. May 1. Social minimum