This course serves as an introduction to political theory, one of the subfields of political science. Political theory traditionally focuses on questions of how to manage our lives together. It concerns itself with questions of how we should live, as individuals and communities, what counts as valuable human life, what justice is, what just and fair institutions look like, and how to deal with the problems human communities face.

This course is organized around a set of problems human communities have faced, and questions we face: how to understand ourselves and our institutions, how to cooperate, how to share resources, and how to understand our disagreements.

Much of what we’ll do in this course is unconventional, whether you compare it to your high school experience or other courses in college. It will reward initiative, flexibility, and collaboration. 


Think of how video games work. This course works along the same logic.

  1. There are some things everyone will have to do to make progress. In this course, the readings, reading-related homework, lectures and discussion sections are those things.
  2. But game play also allows you to choose some activities -- quests, tasks, challenges -- and skip others. You can partly make your own path through a game. So also in this course: the are some assignment types you may choose (because you are good at them, or because you like challenges) and others you can avoid (because your interests are elsewhere). You also have a choice on how you want to weight some of the optional components you choose!
  3. In games, you start with a score of zero and "level up" as you play. You might have to try some tasks several times before you get the points, but good games don't ever take your points away. Same here: everything you successfully do earns you more points.
  4. In games, you sometimes earn "trophies" or "badges" or "power-ups" as you play. They might not have been your primary goal, but you get them because you do something particularly well. In this course, you also can earn power-ups
  5. And at the end of the term, your score is your grade

Learning Goals

The following objectives are in an increasing order of importance. That is, the second one is more important than the first one, and so on.

At the end of the semester, you should:

  1. Be familiar with the texts we have read and the kinds of arguments you have encountered during the course.

  2. Have an understanding of what political theory is and have at least a general comprehension of major concepts and ideas in political theory. (In case you want to know what those concepts are, follow this link.)

  3. Be able to read other similar texts and analyze other political arguments. In other words, you should be able to engage in inquiry into political arguments.

  4. Be able to make your own arguments, and express those arguments verbally, in writing, and using other “new” media.

  5. Be able to solve problems, both intellectual and social, using the skills and knowledge you’ve acquired in this course in conjunction with other skills and knowledge you might have from elsewhere. This includes being able to collaborate with others.   

  6. Be familiar with your own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning, and be able to adjust your approaches to learning.

Notice that the last point is not about political theory, or even political science. It has a lot to do with succeeding in college, and -- you might not know this yet -- it has everything to do about succeeding in life, whatever you end up doing.

Assignment Structure

As we said, you'll have choices about assignments in this course. There are four types of assignments:
  1. Boss Battles. These are short in-class exams. There are four of them.
  2. Conventional Academic Essays. The name says it all. There are two.
  3. Blogging. That name says it all, too. You can write four posts and comment ten times.
  4. Group project. Find some people. Produce something cool and course-related. Amaze us. 
Because of the complicated structure of assignments, we have a separate page that explains it all, in many ways, and gives you more information on the assignments. >> TAKE ME THERE NOW! >>
You earn points for the things you do in this course. You can access your current score on a tool called GradeCraft. The tool lets you see how you are doing in comparison to others. It also allows you to do various projections that help you choose what assignments you might try.

Here is how your score at the end of the term is converted into a letter grade:
39000 A
36000 A- 
32000  B+ 
26000  B- 
22000  C+ 
16000  C- 
12000  D+ 
6000  D- 

To put it bluntly, it will be hard to fail this course, but you'll also have to work hard to ace it. 

General Policies

The scoring in the course is structured so that everyone can miss a couple of lectures and one discussion safely -- no questions asked. Our Badge-Ups give you an opportunity to make up more regular or more significant absences.

If you think you need an accommodation for a disability, please let us know at least two weeks prior to the time when the accommodation will be needed. Some aspects of this course, the assignments, the in-class activities, and the way the course is usually taught may be modified to facilitate your participation and progress. As soon as you make me aware of your needs, we can work with the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) to help us determine appropriate academic accommodations. SSD (734-763-0000; typically recommends accommodations through a Verified Individualized Services and Accommodations (VISA) form. Any information you provide is private and confidential and will be treated as such.

We encourage you to use e-mail to communicate with us. Keep in mind the following:
  • We will reply to e-mails within 24 hours during the week and 48 hours during the weekend.
  • We will be happy to answer substantive questions about the course materials, but we will not read drafts of papers, partial papers, or blog posts submitted electronically.
  • E-mail is a part of your performance in this course. It is also a means of professional communication. Dude, if u like cant tell the diff b/w dat n rting 2 ur friends, u r an idiot. ill fail u n ROTFLMAO. ;P

You will have noticed that you can connect to the course via some social media. We will be happy if you do. Please note, though, that we will not accept personal friend requests on Facebook. Don't feel offended. It's not personal -- because Facebook is personal. You don't want us to know about your life -- believe us, you don't -- and we don't want you to know about ours. 

We do not ban social media use in class, but we expect to be a reasonable human being who understands endless surfing on Tumblr will make the people around you hate your guts. 

We really encourage you to take advantage of your GSI’s and the professor’s office hours. For any substantive questions, questions about political science, college or whatever else, you should feel free to come talk to us. It is a useful way of getting to know your instructors better -- and for your instructors to get to know you better.

Academic Integrity

Engaging in academic work is a tricky business. On the one hand, it is important that individuals do the work that is assigned to them, even if it means reinventing the wheel. On the other hand, all scholars stand on the shoulders of others — in other words, all meaningful academic work is collaborative in one way or another — so it is sometimes hard to draw the line.

There is another reason why citations are so prevalent in academic writing. For all their bloviating, academics are a modest bunch, and when they “Joe Schmoe says this,” they think it’s possible they’ve gotten Joe’s idea all wrong. So they want to give their readers a chance to get it out for themselves.

Putting this simply, the idea of citations in academic work is to

  1. give credit where credit is due, and

  2. allow the reader to check things out and pursue things further.

That’s why us academics take the practices of proper citation extremely seriously. If you engage in any form of academic misconduct, you will automatically fail this course. And that is only the first part. As the LSA Academic Judiciary Manual of Procedures specifies, a student may be expelled from the university for academic misconduct. So that we’re clear on this, for the purposes of this class, plagiarism will mean

submitting a piece of work  which in part or in whole is not entirely the student's own work without attributing those same portions to their correct source.

Meeting the learning objectives in this course requires that you apply your current knowledge and skills to the questions and exercises and, through them, improve that knowledge and those skills. Shortcuts won’t get you there, however appealing they might seem. Because of this, the use of commercial study guides such as Cliff Notes,, and other similar resources outside this course counts as academic misconduct. Using such resources will count as academic misconduct. (They also won’t do you any good in this course.)

Grade Grievances

If you think you have been graded unfairly on any given assignment or component, you will need to do the following:
  1. Wait 24 hours after receiving the grade before approaching the GSI.

  2. Provide an explanation in writing for why the grade you received was unfair.

  3. If you are unsatisfied with your GSI’s response, you may write an appeal to the professor. This appeal must include your original explanation to the GSI and a written explanation for why it is unfair.

Departmental grade grievance procedures are outlined on the political science website on advising.

Semester Overview

    Introduction: What Should We Do and How Should We Live? (Sept. 4-18)

    • Some basic questions of political theory: What values and goals do the institutions that shape our life express? What does it mean to pursue a good life?  
    Assignments: Start blogging 

    What Is Politics 1: Problems (Sept. 23-Oct. 2)

    • If we ask you what you understand by "politics," you'll likely say "Politicians" or "the government." And a lot of you will think, rightly or wrongly, that politics is a dirty business. In the second part of the course, we take a step back and consider some of the types of conflicts that give rise to politics, think about what it means to rule, and explore the concept of power.
    Assignments: Keep blogging, first Conventional Essay, first Boss Battle 

    What Is Politics 2: Solutions (Oct. 7-28)

    • Some of the classical solutions to the problems of politics: the idea of the social contract and the idea that a good design of institutions even in the absence of a contract will make for a manageable social life.  
    Assignments: Kapital Commitment, keep blogging, second Boss Battle, Group Project Proposal

    "Political Epistemology": The Question of Knowledge (Oct. 30-Nov. 25)

    • The fourth part of the course gets even more philosophical: If we think we've come up with good solutions, why do we disagree on what they are? How do we know the things we think we know? Political theorists, just like everyone else, like to say things like "People are selfish so they want x" or "I've figured out what we should do, so just listen to me." Here we explore where good political knowledge might come from and whether we think we are like actually is just the result of the things we are used to. 
    Assignments: Keep blogging, third Boss Battle, Group Project Progress Report

    Making Change: Political Resistance (Dec. 2-11)

    • We return to the fact we've noticed since Socrates: many political problems arise because not everybody endorses the regime they live under. Whether it's because they are persnickety whiners or because the regime is deeply unjust, it's a reasonable question to ask what you might do to change things. 
    Assignments: Finish blogging, fourth Boss Battle, second Conventional Academic Essay, Group Project Final Product