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

Class picture
Issie, Michael Green, Nina, Sean
Jaela, Jack, Averi, Mike
Evelyn, James’s Ghost, Priscilla, Brandon
Missing: Lola
Class picture

Class Notes

Tue, Jan 26
Thu, Jan 28
Glaucon’s Challenge
Tue, Feb 2
Justice in the City
Thu, Feb 4
Justice in the Soul
Tue, Feb 9
Democracy and Tyranny
Thu, Feb 11
The State of Nature
Tue, Feb 16
The Laws of Nature
Mon, Sep 30
Hobbes’s Social Contract
Tue, Feb 23
The Liberty of Subjects
Thu, Feb 25
The Right to Punish
Tue, Mar 2
Locke on Rights
Thu, Mar 4
Locke on Property
Tue, Mar 16
Hume on Property
Thu, Mar 18
Locke and Hume on Consent
Tue, Mar 23
Thu, Mar 25
Mill on Liberty of Expression
Tue, Mar 30
Mill’s Libertarianism
Thu, Apr 1
Nozick on Rights
Tue, Apr 6
Nozick on Justice
Thu, Apr 8
Reparations for Slavery
Tue, Apr 13
Who Owes What?
Thu, Apr 15
Rawls on Libertarianism
Tue, Apr 20
The Original Position
Thu, Apr 22
The Argument for Rawls’s Principles
Tue, Apr 27
Arguments Against Utilitarianism
Thu, Apr 29
Open Borders
Tue, May 4
Closed Borders
Thu, May 6
Review and Class Picture