Political Philosophy (Fall 2010) - Syllabus

Political Philosophy

PHIL 321-01 | ID 10838 | MW 9:30-10:50 | Room: Craig-Lee 053 | Fall 2010

Course Syllabus

Instructor: Dr. Aaron Smuts | asmuts@ric.edu | office hours: 219 Alger Hall, 12:30-2:0 TR, after class, and by appointment


Do we have a duty to obey the law because it's the law? What gives the state the right to collect taxes and enforce laws? Is taxation akin to slavery? Is democracy morally superior to hereditary monarchy? Would we be better off without a government or outside of civilization? What gives someone the right to own land? Is private property a right? Or should we abolish the institution? How much economic inequality is just? Do we have any special duties to our home state or to our fellow citizens? Is patriotism a virtue, or is it more like racism? When, if ever, is it just to punish criminals?

These are some of the questions that we will address this semester. This course is a survey of several important problems in political philosophy. We will be reading both contemporary texts and foundational, historical works. Rather than pursue any particular issue in great depth, we will study a broad set of inter-related questions. This will provide a solid foundation for future inquiry.


There are four required texts for this course:

  1. Michael Rosen (Editor), Jonathan Wolff (Editor). Political Thought (Oxford Readers). Oxford, 1999. ISBN-10: 0192892789 [PT]
  2. Sigmund, Freud. Civilization and Its Discontents: The Standard Edition. Trans. and ed. James Strachey. W.W. Norton and Company, 1961. ISBN 0393301583 [CD]
  3. Thomas More. Utopia. Trans. Clarence H. Miller. Yale Univ. Press, 2001. ISBN 0300084293 [U]
  4. Plato. The Trial and Death of Socrates, 3rd edition. Trans. G.M.A. Grube. Rev. John M. Cooper. Hackett, 2000. ISBN 0872205541 [TDS]

I will post numerous additional readings on Blackboard. [BB]


There will be two different forms of coursework: (best 20 out of 27) daily quizzes and three take-home examinations. I will give a short quiz at the beginning of each class that will require a one or two sentence answer. The quizzes are closed-book, but open-note. Early in the semester there will be a very short (1 page) paper. This will be used to help improve your philosophical writing. The bulk of your grade comes from the take-home exams. All assignments must be completed to pass the course.

Quizzes (10%) + 1 page paper (5%) + first exam (20%) + late-term exam (30%) + final exam (35%).

Attendance Policy

If you miss 6 or more classes, you will receive a 0 for your quiz grade. If you miss 12 or more classes, you will receive an F for the course. (There are no excused or unexcused absences. But please talk to me if something major comes up that dramatically effect your attendance.)

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism—claiming someone else’s ideas or written work as your own—will not be tolerated. The tests are not collaborative. All sources must be cited. Outside research is not forbidden, but none of the assignments ask for sources outside the assigned readings. Anyone caught cheating will be given a failing grade in the course. I will also request that you be expelled from the college.

Class Schedule

(There will be a quiz every class on the required reading for that day.)

  • Week 1
    • M: C1 (8/30) Introduction

Topic I: The State of Nature

    • W: C2 (9/1) The State of Nature
      • Hobbes, "The Misery of the Natural Condition of Mankind" [PT #2]
      • Locke, Second Treatise, chs. II and III [BB]
  • Week 2
    • M: C- (9/6) No Class: Labor Day
    • W: C3 (9/8) The State of Nature
      • Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality [BB]
  • Week 3
    • M: C4 (9/13) The State of Nature
      • Kropotkin, "Mutual Aid" [PT #10]
      • De Waal, "Darwinian Dilemmas" [BB]

Topic II: Life in the State

    • W: C5 (9/14) Life in the State
      • Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, chs. i-iv [CD]
  • Week 4
    • M: C6 (9/20) Life in the State
      • Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, chs. iv-vii [CD]

Topic III: Patriotism

    • W: C7 (9/22) Patriotism
      • McIntyre, "Is Patriotism a Virtue?" [PL #103]
  • Week 5
    • M: C8 (9/27) Patriotism
      • Keller, "What is Patriotism?" and "Against Patriotism" [BB, one file]
      • {Optional: Gomberg, "Patriotism is Like Racism" [BB]}

Topic IV: Justifying the State

    • W: C9 (9/29) Consent
      • Plato, Crito [TDS]
  • Week 6
    • M: C10 (10/4) Tacit Consent
      • Locke, "Political Power" [PT #18]
      • Locke, "Express and Tacit Consent" [PT #21]
      • Kant, "The Hypothetical Contract" [PT #23]
    • W: C11 (10/6) Utility
      • Bentham, "Utility as the True Foundation" [PT #25]
      • Hume, "The Irrelevance of Consent" [PT #24]
      • Rousseau, "Natural Freedom" [PT #22]
  • Week 7
    • M: C12 (10/11) No Class (Columbus Day)
    • W: C13 (10/13) Fairness and Anarchism
      • Hart, "The Principle of Fairness" [PT #27]
      • Wolff, "The Conflict of Autonomy and Authority" [PT #29]
      • Bakunin, "Science and the People" [PT #28]

Topic V: Who Should Rule?

  • Week 8
    • M: C14 (10/18) Elitism
      • Plato, "Ruling as a Skill" [PT #34]
    • W: C15 (10/20) Forced to be Free
      • Rousseau, "The General Will" [PT #36]
  • Week 9
    • M: C16 (10/25) Democracy
      • Mill, "The Democratic Citizen" [PT #38]

Topic VI: Liberty

    • W: C17 (10/27) Welfare Hedonism
      • Mill, "What Utilitarianism Is" and "Of What Sort of Proof" [BB]

  • Week 10
    • M: C18 (11/1) The Harm Principle
      • Mill, "One Simple Principle" [PT #53]
      • Feinberg, "A Ride on the Bus" [BB]
      • {Optional: Berlin, "Two Concepts of Liberty" [BB]}
    • W: C19 (11/4) A Right?
      • Taylor, "In Defense of Positive Freedom" [PT #51]
      • Dworkin, "No Right to Liberty" [PT #52]

Topic VII: Distributive Justice

  • Week 11
    • M: C20 (11/8) Private Property
      • Locke, "Labour as the Basis of Property" [PT #73]
    • W: C- (11/10) No Class: Thursday Classes Meet
  • Week 12
    • M: C21 (11/15) Utopia
      • More, Utopia [U]
    • W: C22 (11/17) Utopia
      • More, Utopia [U]
  • Week 13 (Thanksgiving Break: TBD)
  • Week 14
    • M: C23 (11/29) Justice as Fairness
      • Rawls, "Two Principles of Justice" [PT #95]
    • W: C24 (12/1) Libertarian Objections
      • Nozick, "The Entitlement Theory" [PT #96]

Topic VIII: Punishment

  • Week 15
    • M: C25 (12/6)
      • Mill, "In Favor of Capital Punishment" [PT #70]
      • Hart, "Punishment and Responsibility" [PT #71]
    • W: C26 (12/8)
      • Nozick, "Where Deterrence Theory Goes Wrong" [PT #72]