Friday, August 15, 2008

Fall 2008, POLI 232: Modern Political Thought

This is nearly final. NB: The wait-list for the course is growing rapidly, but experience teaches me that a significant number of enrolled students will drop the course as a result of the reading load. If you're seeking admission to the course, assume you'll get it. If you're enrolled and are going to be frightened off by the reading load, it would be courteous to un-enroll sooner rather than later.


This course provides an introduction to some of the key questions in modern (since 1500, i.e. not ancient or medieval) political thought, with occasional reference to older works when they are helpful for discussing modern questions. Attention will center on the ethics of political life:

1) Whether, when, and why a person should obey the law

2) What means may be used by rulers; whether, when, and why rulers are ethically entitled to use violence, coercion, manipulation, and deception

3) How states can gain the knowledge that is necessary to rule their societies, and what the limits of their knowledge are.

In short, the course will be about political ethics, and about the relationship between morality and politics. It will not be about questions of who decides in politics (e.g. democratic theory and its challenges) or about questions of what ought to be done in politics (whether governments should pursue liberal, conservative, socialist, etc. policies), though some of the texts we read also have important things to say on those questions and we will touch on them as they arise. These topics are addressed in other political theory courses for which this course will provide preparation. Special attention will be given to two of the major kinds of distinctively modern theories about ethics and politics (and objections to them): social contract theories and utilitarianism.

1.September 3: Introduction

Part I. The ethics of obeying and ruling

2. September 5:
Aristotle, The Politics, Everson ed., Cambridge University Press, pp. 65-8 and 170-1
Thoreau, “Resistance to Civil Government” [appearing under the modern title “Civil Disobedience”]
Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” excerpt

3. September 8:
Max Weber, “Politics as a Vocation,” in Gerth and Mills, eds., From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, Oxford University Press, 1958 [1919] pp. 77-128

A. Obedience

4. September 10:
Sophocles, Antigone, excerpts TBA

5. September 12:
Plato, “The Apology” and “Crito,” from The Trial and Death of Socrates

6. September 15:
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Hackett Publishing, chs. 13, 17-18, 26; pp. 74-8, pp. 106-118, 172-89

7. September 17-19:
John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, Cambridge University Press, chs. 2-3, 7, pp. 269-82, 318-53

8. September 22
Locke, Second Treatise, chs. 18-19, pp. 398-428
Declaration of American Independence

9. September 24-26
David Hume, “Of the Original Contract,” in Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, Liberty Fund, pp. 465-88
Hume, Political Writings, Hackett, pp. 51-73 [Treatise of Human Nature III.8-10]

10. September 29
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, in Gourevitch,ed., The Social Contract and Other Later Political Writings, Cambridge University Press, pp. 49-54, 59-64, 121-2 (I.6-8, II.3-4, IV.1)
Rousseau, Discourse Concerning the Origins of Inequality, in Gourevitch, ed., The Discourses and Other Early Political Writings, pp. 161-88

11. October 1-3
Robert Nozick, “The Tale of the Slave,” from Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pp. 290-2.
Robert Paul Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism, University of California Press, 1970, pp. 3-19

B. Ruling

12. October 6
Machiavelli, The Prince, ch. 8-10, 15-19

13. October 8-10
The Prince, complete

14. October 15-17
Michael Walzer, “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands” Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 2, No. 2. (Winter, 1973), pp. 160-180.

15. October 20
Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, chs. 1-2, 4, pp. 1-24, 29-32

16. October 22-24
John Stuart Mill, “Utilitarianism,” Williams ed., London: J.M. Dent/ Everyman, chs 2, 5, pp.6-27, 43-67

17. October 27
Bernard Williams, “A Critique of Utilitarianism,” in Smart & Williams, Utilitarianism, for and against, Cambridge University Press, pp. 93-118.
Robert Goodin, Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 4-12, 28-41

18. October 29-31
Thomas Nagel, “Ruthlessness in Public Life,” in Stuart Hampshire, ed., Public and Private Morality, Cambridge University Press, pp. 75-91
Williams, “Politics and Moral Character,” in Stuart Hampshire, ed., Public and Private Morality, Cambridge University Press, pp. 56-73

19. November 3:
Sissela Bok, Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, New York: Vintage, 1989, pp. 18-56

20. November 5-7:
Isaiah Berlin, “The Pursuit of the Ideal,” in The Crooked Timber of Humanity, Vintage, pp. 1-19
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971, pp. 22-33

21. November 10:
Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars, New York: Basic Books, 1977, pp. 127-59, 225-32, 255-68

22. November 12:
In-class exam

Part III. Knowledge and governance

23. November 17:
F. A. Hayek, “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” The American Economic Review, Vol. 35, No. 4. (Sep., 1945), pp. 519-530.
John Dewey, The Political Writings, Hackett, pp. 158-60, 169-72

24. November 19-21:
Michael Oakeshott, “Rationalism in Politics,” in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays, Liberty Fund, pp. 5-43
Jeremy Bentham, Bentham’s Handbook of Anarchical Fallacies, pp. 43-51, 131-5, 193-205

25. November 24:
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, Sheridan trans., New York: Pantheon Books, 1977, pp. 135-39, 149-153, 168-69, 177-92

26. November 26-28
Foucault, 195-228

27. November 26-28.
James C. Scott, Seeing Like A State, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998, pp. 11-15, 18-24, 33-73,

29. December 1:
Scott, pp. 76-83, 87-102

30. December 2: