PSCI 203: Power and Justice: An Introduction to Political Theory
Last offered: Fall 2019

This course explores two key terms in the study of politics: power and justice. What is power, and how does it shape political life?   Is power always visible?   If not, how can we offer an account of it?    We will begin by trying to identify the spaces in which power operates, focusing on (but not limiting our discussion to) different forms of the political community and the possibility of justice within them. What distinguishes a just community from one that is unjust? Is it possible—as we shall attempt to do with power—to identify spheres of justice or spaces in which all claims that are seen as just must be honored? On what basis are such claims adjudicated? Who is recognized within the bounds of justice, who is left out, and who gets to decide? In considering how ancient and modern political thinkers have responded to these questions, you will broaden your understanding of the two key terms and gain important insights into the nature of politics. You will also acquire the analytical tools you need to evaluate competing conceptions of the political using clearly defined criteria.

Course readings will be drawn from philosophical and theoretical texts, both classic and contemporary. One of the main goals of the course is to introduce you to ideas and thinkers who have profoundly influenced the study and practice of politics. Many of the theories put forward in the readings were highly controversial in the historical periods in which they were first articulated, and they continue to be subject to a great deal of debate. A second goal of the course, therefore, is to equip you to assess contending viewpoints on power and justice and to formulate your own carefully considered approach by engaging the ideas of key thinkers in the field.

Key texts:
Aristotle, The Politics
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
Sophocles, Antigone
Plato, Republic
Robert C. Tucker, ed. The Marx-Engels Reader


PSCI/PHIL 231: Ancient Political Thought
Last offered: Spring 2020

The core activity of this course is the careful reading and sustained discussion of selected works by Plato and Aristotle, but we will also look at their influence on later thinkers such as St. Augustine and the Roman statesman Cicero. In our reading and discussion, we will pay attention to the resonance between the texts, but also investigate the discontinuities, shifting concerns, and philosophical innovations of each thinker.  Among the questions that we will address are: What is justice? How can it be known and pursued? How is political power generated and exercised? What are the social and ethical prerequisites--and consequences--of democracy? Must the freedom or fulfillment of some people require the subordination of others? Does freedom require leading (or avoiding) a political life? What distinguishes that kind of life from others? How does one choose a way of life, and how does the city in which one is located shape that choice? What does it mean to be "philosophical" or to think "theoretically" about politics? Although we will attempt to engage the readings on their own terms, we will also ask how the vast differences between the ancient world and our own undercut or enhance the texts' ability to illuminate the dilemmas of political life for us.

Key texts:
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Aristotle, Politics
Augustine, City of God
Augustine, Confessions
Cicero, On the Commonwealth
Plato, The Republic
Plato, The Trial and Death of Socrates


PSCI/PHIL 232: Modern Political Thought
Last Offered: Fall 2011

This course offers an overview of major thinkers and texts in modern political thought by considering their relationship to a defining theme of the modern era: Enlightenment.  Although the Enlightenment is often identified simply as a historical period—the eighteenth century—Enlightenment can also be understood in terms of the revolutionary projects, political ideals, republican institutions and liberal aspirations that came to the fore during this period.  From yet another perspective, Enlightenment has been identified with the dangerous and brutal aspects of these sweeping changes: racism, slavery, colonialism, the terror that followed the French Revolution, the assault on traditions and social norms, and their replacement with the “tyranny” of rationality.  How do these conflicting characterizations of Enlightenment inform broader theoretical explorations of the possibilities and limits of politics in the modern era?  What, indeed, is uniquely “modern” about the themes, questions, and ideas we will be discussing? 

Key texts:

Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
Hobbes, Leviathan
Locke, Second Treatise of Government
Douglass, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?”
Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France