• Unit 1: The Polis

    Our first unit deals with the origins of Western thinking on the polis, the Greek word for city-state. We will read Plato's famous work, The Republic, which presents an extended argument in dramatic form for what might constitute the ideal polis, encompassing consideration of all aspects of governance, citizenship, social order, and personal virtue. Speaking through the character of his teacher Socrates, Plato's model of the ideal city-state mirrors the order of nature as based in his metaphysical Theory of Forms, famously articulated here in The Republic through its famous Allegory of The Cave.

    Plato's streamlined view of political and social life holds that the city-state should be governed by a ruler with philosophical training capable of comprehending the true nature of reality, justice, and wisdom, and where one's place in society is determined by one's natural abilities. By contrast, Plato's student Aristotle, while incorporating and responding to many aspects of Platonic thought, develops a decidedly organic, or this-worldly, system of ethics and a corresponding structure for the polis as embodied in the texts of the Nicomachean Ethics and the Politics.

    Aristotle's famous claim that "man is by nature a political animal" captures his belief that a natural order between the individual and the community exists as both a power struggle and a distribution of resources, which has as its own end the good held both individually and in common. Such ideal notions of the city-state, whether Platonic or Aristotelian, and the particulars therein, have been a point of departure for political philosophers since the time of Plato's Athens to the present day.

    Completing this unit should take you approximately 40 hours.

    • 1.1: The Just and the Unjust

    • 1.2: The Ideal City

    • 1.3: The Philosopher-King

    • 1.4: The Socratic Method

      • 1.4.1: Socrates Asks to Be Judged on the Truth

      • 1.4.2: Poetry and Philosophy

    • 1.5: The Ideal Citizen and the Ideal State

      • 1.5.1: Crito's Appeal for Socrates to Confess to False Crimes

      • 1.5.2: The Antagonism between Personal and Public Virtue

    • 1.6: The Good Life: Virtue and Happiness

      • 1.6.1: The Doctrine of the Mean

      • 1.6.2: The Preconditions of Virtue: Voluntary vs. Involuntary Action

      • 1.6.3: Justice as a Virtue

      • 1.6.4: The Importance of Contemplation

    • 1.7: Rule of Law

      • 1.7.1: Man as a Political Animal

      • 1.7.2: The Importance of Public Service

      • 1.7.3: Distributive Justice as the Task of the Polis

      • 1.7.4: The Primacy of the Law

    • Unit 1 Assessment