Specific information about this course and its requirements can be found below. For more general information about taking Saylor Academy courses, including information about Community and Academic Codes of Conduct, please read the Student Handbook.
Examine the major texts and figures in the history of political thought, including Plato, Machiavelli, and Rousseau. Topics of analysis include power, justice, rights, law, and issues of governance.
Political thought, or political philosophy, studies questions about power, justice, rights, law, and other issues related to governance. While some believe these concepts are static, political thought asks how they originated and to what effect. Just as Socrates' question "how should we be governed?" led to his execution, the question "what makes a government legitimate?" can lead to political turmoil. What form should government take? What do citizens owe their government? When should citizens overthrow an illegitimate government?
In this course, we examine major texts in Western political thought, where authors pose difficult questions about the political community, social order, and human nature. How do our views about human nature and history inform government design? We explore how Plato, Machiavelli, and Rousseau, responded and how these philosophers contributed to the broader conversation about human needs, goods, justice, democracy, and the ever-changing relationship between the citizen and the state.
In our first unit, we address the polis, or political community, centered upon the texts of Plato and Aristotle. In the second unit, we explore the modern state and constitutional government, featuring the work of John Locke, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Thomas Hobbes. Finally, we focus on democracy and a critique of liberal ideology, from the perspectives of the texts of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Alexis de Tocqueville, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels. These political philosophies have shaped various forms of government, from tyranny to republican democracy to welfare states.
Note that while we use the terms politics, political theory, and political science throughout the course, they are not interchangeable. Politics describes the use of power and the distribution of resources. Political theory is the study of the concepts and principles people use to describe, explain, and evaluate political events and institutions. Traditionally, political theory approaches this study from three perspectives: classic, modern, and contemporary political theory. Here, we examine all three. Political science is the academic discipline concerned with the study of the state, government, and politics. Aristotle defined political science as "the study of the state".
Western political thought has served as a philosophical and ideological foundation for governments around the world, including the United States. We give you historical, social, and cultural context to relate to contemporary political society.
This course includes the following units:
Upon successful completion of this course, you will be able to:
Throughout this course, you will also see learning outcomes in each unit. You can use those learning outcomes to help organize your studies and gauge your progress.
The primary learning materials for this course are articles, lectures, and videos.
All course materials are free to access and can be found in each unit of the course. Pay close attention to the notes that accompany these course materials, as they will tell you what to focus on in each resource, and will help you to understand how the learning materials fit into the course as a whole. You can also see a list of all the learning materials in this course by clicking on Resources in the navigation bar.
Only the final exam is considered when awarding you a grade for this course. In order to pass this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the final exam. Your score on the exam will be calculated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam on your first try, you may take it again as many times as you want, with a 7-day waiting period between each attempt. Once you have successfully passed the final exam you will be awarded a free Course Completion Certificate.
There are also end-of-unit assessments and other quizzes in this course. These are designed to help you study, and do not factor into your final course grade. You can take these as many times as you want until you understand the concepts and material covered. You can see all of these assessments by clicking on Quizzes in the course's navigation bar.
This course is eligible for college credit via Saylor Academy's Direct Credit Program. If you want to earn college credit, you must take and pass the Direct Credit final exam. That exam will be password protected and requires a proctor. If you pass the Direct Credit exam, you will receive a Proctor Verified Course Certificate and be eligible to earn an official transcript. For more information about applying for college credit, review the guide to college credit opportunities. Be sure to check the section on proctoring for details like fees and technical requirements.
There is a 14-day waiting period between attempts of the Direct Credit final exam. There is no waiting period between attempts for the not-for-credit exam and the Direct Credit exam. You may only attempt each Direct Credit final exam a maximum of 3 times. Be sure to study in between each attempt!
POLSC201: Introduction to Western Political Thought is a self-paced course, which means that you can decide when you will start and when you will complete the course. There is no instructor or an assigned schedule to follow. We estimate that the "average" student will take #120 hours to complete this course. We recommend that you work through the course at a pace that is comfortable for you and allows you to make regular progress. It's a good idea to also schedule your study time in advance and try as best as you can to stick to that schedule.
Learning new material can be challenging, so we've compiled a few study strategies to help you succeed:
In order to take this course, you should:
This course is delivered entirely online. You will be required to have access to a computer or web-capable mobile device and have consistent access to the internet to either view or download the necessary course resources and to attempt any auto-graded course assessments and the final exam.
For additional guidance, check out Saylor Academy's FAQ.
This course is entirely free to enroll in and to access. Everything linked in the course, including textbooks, videos, webpages, and activities, is available for no charge. This course also contains a free final exam and course completion certificate.
This course also has an optional final exam that can give you an opportunity to earn college credit. This exam requires the use of a proctoring service for identity verification purposes. The cost for proctoring for this optional exam is $5 per session.