Topic Name Description
Course Syllabus Page Course Syllabus
Page Course Terms of Use
1.1: The Just and the Unjust URL Plato's Republic: Books I and II

Read Book I and Book II. Through the voice of his teacher Socrates, Plato defines what he considers the ideal forms of justice, leadership, social order, and philosophical discipline throughout The Republic. At the same time, Plato addresses the tension between the pursuit of individual self-perfection and public service.

In Book I, Socrates begins by attempting to define justice by challenging notions held by Cephalus and Polemarchus. Socrates finds their notions wanting, but nonetheless they continue to hold that it is better for a person to be just than unjust. Thrasymachus challenges the assumption that it is good to be just altogether. In Book II, Socrates accepts the challenge from Glaucon and Adeimantus to argue that it is better for a person to be just than unjust and that justice is a good in itself regardless of the consequences associated with it. Socrates begins, however, by looking for justice as a virtue of cities before defining justice as a virtue of persons. He outlines his first version of an ideal city and the producer class of citizens established under the principle of specialization that each person must perform the role for which he is naturally best suited.

Page Philosophers and Kings: Plato's Republic I-II

Watch this lecture. Pause as needed to take notes.

1.2: The Ideal City URL Plato's Republic: Books III and IV

Read Books III and IV of the Republic. Socrates presents his second form of the ideal city, comprised of three classes: rulers, guardians, and producers. He defines their respective roles, along with the qualities, education, and training appropriate to them. By the end of Book IV, Socrates proclaims the city just. By identifying justice at the level of the city, Socrates hopes to make an analogous definition of justice as a virtue at the personal level. Keep in mind that it is a long-standing point of contention among scholars as to Plato's intent behind presenting the Republic as a utopia.

Page Philosophers and Kings: Plato's Republic III-IV

Watch this lecture. Pause as needed to take notes.

1.3: The Philosopher-King URL Plato's Republic: Book V

Read Book V of the Republic. In Book V, Socrates focuses in more detail on the lifestyle of the guardian class, including the relationships between men, women, and children, as well as issues associated with war. In defending how such a lifestyle could come into being and be sustained, Socrates introduces the notion that the only possible way for the ideal society to exist is if the rulers are philosophers - his concept of the "philosopher-king".

Page Philosophers and Kings: Plato's Republic V

Watch this lecture and pause as needed to take notes.

1.4: The Socratic Method URL Plato's Apology

Read the Apology. This work deals with Socrates's reasoned self-defense when he is falsely charged with crimes against the state.

Study Guide Questions:

  1. How would you describe the Socratic Method? Think about what Plato demonstrates with the argument between Aristophanes and Socrates. Note that Aristophanes represents past and present poets of Socrates's era and is thus oracular in nature, whereas Socrates is conversational, meaning dialectical.
  2. Consider Socrates's poverty in the context of virtue. In The Apology, Plato describes Socrates' poverty as a sort of "proof" that he was not a paid teacher - that he was only living his life in response to the proclamation by the Delphic Oracle that no one was as wise as Socrates. Is this convincing, and how so?
Page Socratic Citizenship: Plato's Apology

Watch this lecture. As you watch, remember that in the Apology, Socrates faces a trial not only in a court of law, but also in the court of public opinion. Socrates makes his case both to the masses and to the judicial, civil, and political establishment. He knows that his argument is probably the last of his life, and thus he seeks to spur further dialogue among his fellow Athenians. Pause as needed to take notes.

URL Plato's Republic: Book X

Read Book X.

URL Poetry and Philosophy

Read this article.

1.5: The Ideal Citizen and the Ideal State URL Plato's Crito

Read Crito, which is an account of Socrates' explanation for accepting the death sentence for his alleged crimes rather than confessing and taking a lesser sentence. He tells his friend Crito that, although he has been falsely convicted, he would rather accept the punishment because it will uphold the rule of law in Athens. He prefers to die rather than live outside of the law or in a fashion that would undermine the law. The form of Plato's account – a series of dialogues among friends – is important to Plato's thought.

URL The Antagonism between Personal and Public Virtue

Read this article.

Page Socratic Citizenship: Plato's Crito

Watch this lecture. As you watch, think about Crito's appeal to Socrates. Crito represents a Homeric, traditional type of citizen of his age. His appeal is a logical one viewed through the lens of the self, but Socrates is not swayed. He rejects the notion that a citizen must live out a public existence with displays of patriotism, nobility, and devotion to the state. Note that these actions are not the same as compliance with the law of the land.

In the last third of the lecture, notice how Smith makes the case that the juxtaposition of Socrates' exposed views in Crito and The Republic cannot be reconciled. Smith believes that Plato purposefully exposed his readers to Socrates' conflicting philosophies in an attempt to demonstrate that society must choose either one of the Socratic models, or neither, but not both. Pause as needed to take notes.

1.6: The Good Life: Virtue and Happiness URL Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: Book I

Read Book I of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. The Nicomachean Ethics is Aristotle's most comprehensive work on ethics and establishes ethical inquiry as a field unto its own apart from other fields of inquiry. In this text, Aristotle sustains the Platonic dialogue on how society should best be organized, but he does so by focusing on the codification of virtuous behavior and what it means for a person to live a good life.

URL The Good Life: Virtue and Well-Being

Read this article, which provides context for Aristotle's ideas of ethics.

URL Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: Book II

Read Book II of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Book II sets out to discover how we can determine what is virtuous, or that which is fine or excellent, such that our practical reason can be in accordance with it, both in the sense of actions to be taken and ends to be achieved. What Aristotle determines is that what is virtuous with regard to a person's character can be found between the extremes as to what it is not - or the mean between the two vices of excess and deficiency.

URL The Doctrine of the Mean

Read this article, which provides context for Aristotle's ideas concerning virtue and other related concepts.

URL Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: Book III

Read Book III of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. After describing what is virtuous in Book II, Aristotle gives an outline of what must be in place if virtuous action is to result. What constitutes virtuous action is dependent on a variety of external factors as well as the mindset and character of the actor. Aristotle distinguishes between actions taken voluntarily and involuntarily. He determines that actions must be voluntary if they are to be virtuous and thus worthy of praise.

URL The Preconditions of Virtue: Voluntary vs. Involuntary Action

Read this article, which provides context for Aristotle's ideas concerning the preconditions of virtue and other related concepts.

URL Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: Books IV-V

Read Book IV and Book V of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. In Book IV, Aristotle explains how we may determine what is virtuous through the doctrine of the mean using examples of individual virtues such as bravery, generosity, and temperance. In Book V, Aristotle discusses the virtue of justice, which carries an exalted status among the virtues. Aristotle makes a distinction between two different but related types of justice: the general and the special (or particular).

Of general justice, he writes, "this type of justice then, is complete virtue, not complete virtue unconditionally, but complete virtue in relation to another. And this is why justice often seems to be supreme among the virtues, and 'neither the evening star nor the morning star is so marvelous', and the proverb says 'And in justice all virtue is summed up'". As you will see, Aristotle's conception of justice stands in sharp contrast to that of Plato's, with the realization that individual justice is inextricably tied to the common good.

URL Justice as a Virtue

Read this article.

URL Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: Book VI

Read Book VI of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.

In Book II, you learned that Aristotle divides virtue into two sorts that correspond to the rational and non-rational parts of the soul. The rational part is that which has reason within itself or is reason "through-and-through", while the non-rational part is capable of being influenced by reason. Book VI of the Ethics first addresses the non-rational part of the soul, which is integral to Book X and the transition made from the Ethics to Aristotle's Politics. Here, we first address the intellectual virtues applied to the non-rational parts of the soul in Book VI, or the virtues of thought associated with our emotions, feelings, dispositions, and actions, before turning to Book X.

URL Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics: Book X

After you have read Book VI of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, read Book X.

URL Practical Reason and Politics

Read this article.

URL Discussion: Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics

In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle devotes two books to the topic of friendship. Why does he consider friendship to be a critical component of the good life? How might Plato have responded to such an assertion?

Post your response in the course's discussion forum, and check back to see what some of your classmates have written. Feel free to leave comments on the posts of your classmates.

1.7: Rule of Law URL Aristotle's Politics

Read this text. As you read, think about the Nicomachean Ethics and pay attention to how Aristotle weaves ethical precepts into the fabric of political action. Aristotle argues that a law that mirrors the natural order is of the highest good to the polis. Citizenship is rationed (i.e., only free, land-owning males of native ancestry are considered citizens), but comes with serious responsibilities, often in the form of public service. As you read, consider the following question: who was considered a citizen, and who was excluded from this category?

Study Guide Questions:

  1. Aristotle objected to Plato that his search for unity ended by abolishing what is distinctively political about politics. What is the nature of the complaint, and is Aristotle right?
  2. Aristotle states: "[M]echanics or any other class that is not the producer of virtue have no share in the state". What do you think about this view of citizenship?

Because this text is lengthy, you may find it helpful to read it over the course of a few days.

Page The Mixed Regime and the Rule of Law: Aristotle's Politics I-III

Watch this lecture. Pay attention to the concepts of politics and social order in the context of logos, defined as reason or speech.

Page The Mixed Regime and the Rule of Law: Aristotle's Politics IV

Watch this lecture. As you watch, think about the importance of public service as conceived by Aristotle. His position is that in any regime, each member of society has particular duties to carry out. What are those duties?

URL Distributive Justice as the Task of the Polis

Read this article. In Book III of Politics, Aristotle analyzes arguments for and against various constitutions that employ different notions of a person's worth. This includes his preferred notion of distributive justice as proportionate equality taken from Book V of Nicomachean Ethics: justice requires that benefits be distributed to individuals in proportion to their merit or desert.

Oligarchs are mistaken in thinking that those who are superior in wealth should also have superior political opportunities and standing. Democrats are mistaken in thinking that those who are equal in free birth should also have correspondingly equal political opportunities and standing. Though different in their conception of personal worth, for Aristotle both the oligarchs and the democrats are mistaken for the same reason: they assume a false conception of the ultimate end of the polis. Presented here are three different interpretations of what Aristotle means by rule of the best persons and what the common well-being of the polis entails.

URL The Primacy of Law

Read this article. As you read, consider the common saying that the United States is a "nation of laws". See how Aristotle lays out the need for the rule of law in society.

URL Discussion: Aristotle's Politics

Think about how you would interpret Aristotle's famous quote, "Man is by nature a political animal". What does he mean by this? Can you find any evidence of this in our modern political system? Post your response in the discussion forum, and check back to read your classmates' responses. Feel free to leave feedback on those comments and posts.

2.1: Timing and Cunning in Politics URL Nicolò Machiavelli's The Prince

Read Chapters I-XVII of The Prince. In many ways, Machiavelli is considered the first modern political scientist. In The Prince, Machiavelli argues that successful statecraft requires tools that many traditional philosophical and political ideals simply could not provide, and he sees politics as a public responsibility that cannot be based upon the same ethics that guide private life.

Study Guide Questions:

  1. What is Machiavelli's view of human nature?
  2. Is Machiavelli's approach to government similar to or different from Plato's idealized vision in The Republic, and how so?
  3. How is Machiavelli's concept of virtue similar to or different from that of Aristotle?
  4. Machiavelli questions whether it is better for the prince to be loved by the people or feared by the people. He argues that both are important, and if possible, the prince should be equally feared and loved. However, he also calls this an unattainable ideal, and finally concludes that the prince should choose to be feared, rather than loved, by the people. Is Machiavelli right?
Page New Modes and Orders: Machiavelli's The Prince, Chapters 1-12

Watch this lecture. As you watch, consider Machiavelli's background compared to that of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The political landscape of Europe was considerably bigger and more complex during the Renaissance and thus allowed Machiavelli to advance some of the first political concepts and models.

URL The Significance of Mercenaries

Read this article. Machiavelli's theory of mercenaries was the first of its kind, and this article explains the historical and contemporary debates surrounding Machiavelli's theory.

2.2: Sovereignty URL Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan

Read this text. As you read, consider whether you think it would be possible for Hobbes to make the claims he does without Machiavelli's theories laid out almost a century and a half earlier.

Thomas Hobbes designed the first theory of the sovereign state. In Leviathan, he sees life before the emergence of states as "nasty, brutish, and short", and envisions the Leviathan, a sovereign state led by a king who indiscriminately rules over his territory and citizenry. In turn, citizens give up their freedom for security.

Study Guide Questions:

  1. According to Hobbes, why should we accept law and government?
  2. According to Hobbes, what form of law and government should we accept?
  3. Describe how, according to Hobbes, civil society comes to be and is sustained out of his version of the state of nature.
Page The Sovereign State: Hobbes' Leviathan I

Watch this lecture. As you watch, consider Hobbes' assertion of the innate equality of all human beings, which in some ways is a precursor to the concept of inalienable rights.

Page The Sovereign State: Hobbes' Leviathan II-III

Watch these lectures.

2.3: Constitutional Government URL John Locke's Second Treatise of Government

Read this text. While Hobbes saw human nature as brutal, Locke's thinking reflected the ideals of the European Enlightenment. For enlightenment thinkers, people were broadly considered to be equal and independent. Locke's thinking revolutionized how people thought about citizenship by proposing that all individuals have a right to "life, liberty, and property".

Also consider the rights of private ownership in the United States. As these rights are not directly spelled out in the Constitution, it can be said that Locke's influence was once again a driving philosophical force in the American mind as the Industrial Revolution was progressing.

Study Guide Questions:

  1. Describe and evaluate Locke's defense of property rights. Bear in mind the distinction between rights over one's person (self-ownership rights) and rights over material resources (world ownership rights).
  2. Explain Locke's doctrine of consent to government. Is the doctrine strictly necessary to his account of legitimate government? Carefully distinguish between different kinds of consent (explicit, tacit, etc.), and pay close attention to conquest and usurpation, where power is acquired without a contract.
Page Constitutional Government: Locke's Second Treatise 1-5

Watch this lecture. Compare Locke's version of the natural state of humanity to that of Hobbes and Plato.

Page Constitutional Government: Locke's Second Treatise 7-12

Watch this lecture.

Consider Locke's influence on Abraham Lincoln. Both Lincoln and his rival Stephen Douglas professed that consent was necessary to grant slavery legal status in the US. However, the concept of consent is pivotal. Why does Smith consider Stephen Douglas' concept of consent to slavery to be flawed logic?

Also, consider the rights of private ownership in the United States. As these rights are not directly spelled out in the Constitution, it can be said that Locke's influence was once again a driving philosophical force in the American mind as the Industrial Revolution was progressing.

Page Constitutional Government: Locke's Second Treatise 13-19

Watch this lecture. For Enlightenment thinkers, all people were equal and independent, and this allowed new credible political ideologies to develop. Consider the pre-Enlightenment views of the ruling classes in European countries as compared to the United States, which theoretically had an open and free political system in which all were able to participate. Also take note that a key tenet of Lockean philosophy is the right of the people to revolt against a government that is corrupt or otherwise unable to carry out the wishes of its constituency.

URL Discussion: Locke's Second Treatise

In his Second Treatise, John Locke maintains the natural liberty of human beings; all people are born free, and the attempt to enslave any person creates a state of war. Yet Locke himself had invested in the slave trade and drafted the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina which granted absolute power over slaves. How do you think Locke reconciled his beliefs with his actions regarding slavery?

Post your response in the discussion forum, and check back to see what some of your classmates have written. Feel free to leave comments on the posts of your classmates.

3.1: Discourse on Inequality URL Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Discourse on Inequality

Read this text. Rousseau uses history and travel experience to show that humans have slowly evolved from brute animality to moderate sociability and eventually corruption and inequality as the rich have taken over government. Rousseau is famous for developing the idea that freedom exists in three forms: civil, natural, and moral.

Study Guide Questions:

  1. Does Rousseau advocate a return to the state of nature?
  2. What role does the notion of private property play in Rousseau's thought?
  3. Reading this selection, taking notes, and answering the study guide questions should take approximately 6 hours.
Page Democracy and Participation: Rousseau's Discourse I

Watch this lecture.

Page Democracy and Participation: Rousseau's Discourse II

Watch this lecture. Rousseau proposes a social contract that "defends and protects with all common forces the person and goods of each associate, and by means of which each one, while uniting with all, nevertheless obeys only himself and remains as free as before". Also consider Smith's description of the emergence of government types. Layer by layer, they have developed as philosophical reasoning expanded the boundaries of Western society's political thinking.

3.2: Democratic Participation URL Jean-Jacques Rousseau's The Social Contract

Read this text. As you read The Social Contract, consider the United States Constitution, particularly as amended by The Bill of Rights. Many of the concepts therein originate with Socrates and Aristotle, but come into their own as fully formed foundational principles through the US Founding Fathers' reliance upon and interpretation of Rousseau.

Study Guide Questions:

  1. Can individuals be free, in the aftermath of Rousseau's social contract that involves the "total alienation of each associate of himself and all his rights to the whole community"?
  2. What does Rousseau mean by a "moral freedom which...makes man the master of himself"?
Page Democracy and Participation: Rousseau's Social Contract I-II

Watch this lecture. Consider Rousseau's idea that societal contracts are more of a societal association about how we will conduct business, rather than a consensus on how one's life is to be lived according to societal mores. Also pay attention to the distinctions between civil, natural, and moral freedoms as portrayed by Rousseau.

3.3: Democratic Statecraft URL Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America

Read this text as follows:

In this work, Tocqueville studies democracy via the civil practices he observed during a tour of the newly-independent American colonies. While in America, he noticed that wealth circulated more freely without hereditary ranks and distractions.

Study Guide Questions:

  1. Why does Tocqueville want to study democracy in America?
  2. How does Tocqueville view equality in America?
  3. How does Tocqueville view the role religion plays in America, specifically with regard to politics and social order?
Page Democratic Statecraft: Tocqueville's Democracy in America I

Watch this lecture. In his work, Tocqueville describes the radical departure from the classical notion that citizens have different innate abilities and assesses the potential consequences resulting from the belief in and passion for equality.

Page Democratic Statecraft: Tocqueville's Democracy in America II

Watch this lecture. With the introduction of equal political rights, Tocqueville also advocated more democratic and representative institutions capable of upholding the people's interests, and he warned of a tyranny of the majority.

3.4: Karl Marx as an Enlightenment Thinker URL David Riazanov's Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: An Introduction to Their Lives and Work: Chapter II

Read this chapter, which gives a brief overview of the historical and political context in which Marx and Engels studied and wrote.

Page Karl Marx (1818–1883)

Watch this video, which gives an overview of Marx's life and work.

Study Guide Questions:

  1. What does Marx say is the main source of conflict throughout history?
  2. Why does Marx think that the bourgeoisie is unfit to rule?
  3. According to Marx, why are laborers forced to sell their labor for the lowest possible wages?
  4. Explain Marx's views on the relationship between religion and capitalism.
  5. Why does Marx think that capitalism inevitably creates its own destruction?
URL Karl Marx's On the Jewish Question

Read this text. In his essay On the Jewish Question, Marx takes issue with Bruno Bauer, one of his colleagues among the Young Hegelians. Bauer had earlier made an argument against Jewish emancipation from the German Christian state from an atheist perspective, arguing that religion whether Jewish or Christian was a barrier to emancipation. In responding to Bauer, Marx introduces his distinction between political emancipation in form of liberal rights and liberties, and human emancipation, which encompasses an end to alienation from our work and from each other.

Page Marx and the Enlightenment

Watch this lecture, which presents Marx's works on economics and society as definitively a part of the Enlightenment tradition in political and economic thought as that of Adam Smith or John Stuart Mill.

URL Karl Marx's A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy: Preface

Read this preface, which constitutes a sketch of Marx's framework for historical materialism. He argues that the nature of a society's economic structure depends upon the degree of development of the productive forces or means of production, meaning human labor conjoined with technology. The relations of production or superstructure, meaning the political and legal institutions of society, is in turn explained by the nature of the economic structure. Revolution occurs, however, when the forces of production are stifled by the superstructure, which is replaced by a structure better suited to preside over the continued development of the forces of production.

URL Karl Marx's Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy: Part I: The Commodity

Read this chapter. Marx begins by establishing two necessary conditions for commodity production: (i) a market and (ii) a social division of labor where people make different things. For Marx, commodities both have a use-value, and an exchange-value or price, but it is the latter which is problematic. In coming to understand why one commodity is priced differently from another, Marx derives his labor theory of value.

URL Karl Marx's Capital: Chapter 14: Counteracting Influences

Read this chapter, in which Marx shows the effects of his law that within a capitalist economic structure, the tendency of the rate of profit must fall. This leads to increasing intensity of exploitation as well as other effects that contribute to the downfall of capitalism.

URL Karl Marx's Critique of the Gotha Program

Read this work, in which Marx describes the transition from a capitalist to a socialist to a communist society, and it is here where he describes communism as a society in which each person should contribute according to their ability and receive according to their need.

Page Marxian Exploitation and Distributive Justice

Watch this lecture, which focuses on the technical, as opposed to normative, aspects of Marxian exploitation, and how Marx believed a socialist economic structure is the logical successor to a capitalist economic structure, which would in turn develop into a communist economic structure.

URL Analytical Marxism: Self-Ownership and Distributive Justice

Read this article, which addresses the question as to why we should study Marx today, and gives an overview of a contemporary strain of political thought called Analytical Marxism. From there, the importance of the principle of self-ownership in Marx's framework is traced, and how that principle corresponds to contemporary debates regarding distributive justice, and particularly "the difference principle" in the work of John Rawls.

Page The Marxian Failure and Legacy

Watch this lecture, which focuses both on the empirical failures of Marx's predictions and theoretical inconsistencies in his framework, and the influence his work has had on late 19th and 20th century political thought.

3.5: The Boundaries of Civil Liberties Page John Stuart Mill's Immortal Case for Toleration

Read this overview of Mill's major works and their importance in continuing debates about liberty.

Page Mill: Utilitarianism and Liberty

Watch this lecture from 32:55, where Szelényi discusses Mill's background and major contributions to political philosophy.

URL John Stuart Mill's On Liberty

Read this text. Note the distinction Mill makes between freedom of the will and civil or social liberty. Mill's fundamental question is about the nature and limits of the power that society can legitimately exercise over the individual.

URL John Stuart Mill's Utilitarianism

Read this text. Utilitarianism has its roots in 18th- and 19th-century classical philosophy, particularly in the writings of political theorist Jeremy Bentham (and Mill's father, James Mill). This moral theory is also known as the "greatest-happiness principle", which holds that one must always act so as to produce the greatest aggregate happiness among all human beings, within reason.

Page The Neoclassical Synthesis of Rights and Utility

Watch this lecture, which explains the tension between Mill's principle of liberty and his version of utilitarianism.

Page Limits of the Neoclassical Synthesis

Watch this lecture, which demonstrates the contradictions and problems with the neoclassical utilitarian framework through theoretical examples and case studies.

URL Perfectionism in Mill's On Liberty

Read this article, which attempts to reconcile the tension between Mill's principle of liberty and his invocation of utilitarianism. The difficulty lies in that the principle of liberty disqualifies utility-promotion as a reason for restraint of liberty, unless such restraint also prevents harm to others. Yet at the same time, once the harm-to-others threshold presented by the principle of liberty is crossed and liberty-limitation is justifiable, it becomes justified according to the balance of restraint of liberty and prevention of harm as assessed by a utilitarian calculation. By appealing to perfectionist tendencies in Mill's thought, and particularly his notion of "the permanent interests of man as a progressive being", the principle of liberty can be seen less in the light of problems with regard to utilitarian calculation and more as an indispensable pillar for what Mill would have us aspire to be both as a tolerant society and as autonomous individuals.

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