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.

Class Notes

Mon, Aug 30
Overview
Wed, Sep 1
Glaucon’s Challenge
Wed, Sep 8
Justice in the City
Mon, Sep 13
Justice in the Soul
Wed, Sep 15
Democracy and Tyranny
Mon, Sep 20
The State of Nature
Wed, Sep 22
The Laws of Nature
Mon, Sep 27
Hobbes’s Social Contract
Wed, Sep 29
The Liberty of Subjects
Mon, Oct 4
The Right to Punish
Mon, Oct 4
Locke on Rights
Mon, Oct 11
Locke on Property
Wed, Oct 13
Hume on Property
Wed, Oct 20
Locke and Hume on Consent
Mon, Oct 25
Utilitarianism
Wed, Oct 27
Mill on Liberty of Expression
Mon, Nov 1
Mill’s Libertarianism
Wed, Nov 3
Nozick on Rights
Mon, Nov 8
Nozick on Justice
Wed, Nov 10
Reparations for Slavery
Mon, Nov 15
Who Owes What?
Wed, Nov 17
Rawls on Libertarianism
Mon, Nov 22
The Original Position
Mon, Nov 29
The Argument for Rawls’s Principles
Wed, Dec 1
Arguments Against Utilitarianism (updated Thu, Dec 2)