About This 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 Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Robert Nozick, John Rawls, as well as contemporary philosophers who seek to make sense of the place of the state in the world. 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 syllabus has a schedule of topics for discussion, readings, and assignments; it also describes the standards for grades and other policies for the class. Registered students can find all other materials on Sakai.

Political Philosophers

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Anqi, Dylan, Sam, Chloe
Michael Green, Jordan, Noah, Adam, Josh
Bex, Agnes, Michelle, Noah, Jasper
Missing: Mary, Nikhil
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Class Notes

Tue, Jan 22
Thu, Jan 24
Tue, Jan 29
Glaucon’s Challenge
Thu, Jan 31
Justice in the City
Tue, Feb 5
Justice in the Soul
Thu, Feb 7
Democracy and Tyranny
Tue, Feb 12
The State of Nature
Thu, Feb 14
Rights in Hobbes
Tue, Feb 19
Hobbes’s Social Contract
Thu, Feb 21
The Liberty of Subjects
Tue, Feb 26
The Right to Punish
Thu, Feb 28
Locke on Rights
Tue, Mar 5
Locke on Property
Thu, Mar 7
Hume on Property
Tue, Mar 12
Locke and Hume on Consent
Thu, Mar 14
Tue, Mar 26
Mill on Liberty of Expression
Thu, Mar 28
Mill’s Libertarianism
Tue, Apr 2
Nozick on Rights
Thu, Apr 4
Nozick on Justice
Tue, Apr 9
Reparations for Slavery
Thu, Apr 11
Who Owes What?
Tue, Apr 16
Rawls on Libertarianism
Thu, Apr 18
The Original Position
Tue, Apr 23
The Argument for Rawls’s Principles
Thu, Apr 25
Arguments Against Utilitarianism
Tue, Apr 30
Open Borders
Thu, May 2
Closed Borders
Tue, May 7
Review and Class Picture