Unit 2 Study Guide: Rights, the State, and the Free Market

2a: Define the concepts of citizenship and civil government as described by Plato.


Plato's Theory of Forms

    • Define Plato's Theory of Forms.
    • How did Plato contrast things that are real from things that merely appear to be real?
    • Explain why you believe Plato was correct or incorrect. Do some things seem real, but you find them merely ephemeral and passing when you think about them more closely?
    • Name some examples that exemplify Plato’s point.
    • Explain why you agree or disagree with Plato's belief that we judge other actions or things according to an ideal standard.

Plato's Theory of Forms is probably his most influential idea. Plato explained that the things we see in front of us are not as "real" as we think. After all, these things disintegrate over time and can change like the wind. Living things die and physical objects pass away in time. However, the idea of these entities in their true essence never change.

For example, although this chair may break, burn up, or be thrown away, the essence or form of "chairness" continues, and people continue to make chairs based on this pattern. Plato called this essence of "chairness" the form of the chair. Everything we think of patterns itself after a form. This includes concepts, such as justice, goodness, and the state.

Review the famous Allegory of the Cave in Book VII of Plato's most influential book, The Republic.

Review an introduction to Plato’s Theory of Forms in Theory of Forms and The Republic from Wikipedia.

Review how Plato described the Form of the Good in Book VI of The Republic. Write down the key characteristics of the Form of the Good.

    • How many sections does Plato's divided line have?
    • What things did Plato put at the top? At the bottom? At each level in between?
    • Which things are most important? And by what ratio are they more important?

Review the description of the divided line Plato which describes at the end of Book VI of The Republic.

    • How does Plato define justice?
    • What is Socrates view?
    • What does Thrasymachus say?
    • Who do you think is right?

Review how to find the Form of the Good and the Form of Justice in The Republic.

    • If people know they can get away with doing wrong, will they do it?
    • Why should we live justly if we can get away with injustice?
    • Socrates wants to argue that even if we can get away with it, it is still better to live a just life. Do you think he can make a convincing argument for this point?

Review the argument about the meaning of justice in the article Plato, the State, and the Soul by Garth Kimmerling. Pay careful attention to the sections, “What is Justice” and “The Privilege of Power.” The next section, “Is Justice Better than Injustice?” discusses a ring a shepherd found which made him invisible (perhaps this sounds familiar – who knew this story was this old!). In Plato’s story, the ring leads the shepherd to consider a life of crime. Why not? He could get away with it! This story in The Republic is at the beginning of Book II.

    • Define state, citizen and citizenship.
    • How do these definitions relate to Plato's Theory of Forms?
    • Name the responsibilities a citizen has to the state.
    • Name the responsibilities the state has to its citizens.
    • What recourse does the citizen have if they want to opt out, or want a different state?

Review these definitions in the lecture, Socratic Citizenship: Plato, Crito by Stephen Smith.

Many philosophers credit Plato for providing Thomas Hobbes with the foundation for the first version of his social contract theory. Hobbes's ideas offer a more modern description of state authority which says the state has authority because it embodies the will of the people. Together the people come together to agree, via a social contract, that they will live together according to certain rules. Our current views about democracy are rooted in this theory of the social contract. Note that we will review Hobbes's ideas in more detail in Unit 4.

    • Name the divisions of the state and the three classes of people.
    • Define the virtues in human souls.
    • Define the three parts of the human soul.
    • How do the virtues in human souls relate to the divisions of the state and the classes of people?

Review these questions in the article Plato, the State, and the Soul by Garth Kimmerling.

2b: Explain the libertarian perspective on property rights and wealth as described by Robert Nozick.

    • How does the New World Encyclopedia define libertarianism?
    • Define redistributive taxation.
    • Define progressive taxation.
    • What do you think the role of taxation is in an ideal government?

The modern libertarianism political movement, is rooted in certain philosophical ideas about liberty, freedom, and the meaning of the state.

Review the definition for libertarianism in New World Encyclopedia and in the lecture Free to Choose by Michael Sandel.

    • Define liberal and liberalism according to Milton Friedman.
    • Define paternalism and collectivism.
    • What do paternalism and collectivism have to do with a theory of the state?
    • Define freedom, economic freedom, and political freedom.
    • Are economic freedom and political freedom related?

Milton Friedman (1912–2006), the American economist, was a champion of laissez faire economics, an economic theory based on the principle of leaving things alone: the government should not get involved in regulating the economy, but allow things to take their natural course, by promoting policies that support free trade and a free market economy.

Review Milton Friedman from Wikipedia.

Review the article What Did Milton Friedman Have to Say About Human Flourishing? by Winton Bates.

    • What narrow functions should a minimal state perform according to Robert Nozick?
    • Do you think his analogy, the “state as night-watchman,” fits?
    • What did Nozick mean by entitlement theory? Which philosophers do you think influenced his theory the most?
    • Define anarchy and minarchist libertarianism.

Robert Nozick (1938–2002), the American philosopher, defended capitalism, personal liberty, and libertarianism. In his influential book, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Nozick argued for a minimal state and described his theories about entitlement theory, anarchy, and minarchist libertarianism.

Nozick was not an anarchist – he supported the "night watchman" theory of the state, or minarchist libertarianism, which assigns a limited role to the state to protect property, such as from break in, theft, and other harms.

Likewise, Nozick defended "entitlement theory," the belief that people are entitled to acquire and transfer their holdings, such as money or goods, but that the state does not have the right to force anyone to give up their holdings to benefit someone else, such as due to notions of distributive justice (which we review below), socialism, or welfarism.

Read the articles Robert Nozick and Anarchy, State, and Utopia from Wikipedia.


2c: Explain the connection between property and labor described by John Locke.

    • Describe the three main philosophical ideals of the French Revolution, liberty, equality, and fraternity.
    • What kind of balance do these ideals set up according to John Locke? In other words, which two of these ideals are in tension with each other?
    • Where do the Europeans during this time period believe government gets its authority?

Review the description of the ideals of the French Revolution and the values of democracy in Democratic Values: Liberty, Equality, Justice from U.S. History.org.

John Locke (1632–1704), the English philosopher, theorized that government was the manifestation of a general will or "consent of the governed" that allowed citizens to change their governors at will. His book, Treatises on Civil Government, influenced those who fought in the American revolution.

    • What was the relationship between property and government according to John Locke?
    • Describe Locke's thoughts on the state of nature, the first instance of social organization, and the basis for forming a government.

Review Locke: Social Order by Garth Kemerling and the lecture Part 2 Consenting Adults (after timestamp 25:12) by Michael Sandel.

Review John Locke's description of the state of nature in his Second Treatise on Civil Government. Pay special attention to sections 4–8 of Chapter 2.

    • What three things are missing in the state of nature?
    • What does Locke describe as the chief end of commonwealth in section 124?

Review Locke's description of the ends of political society and government in Chapter 9 of his Second Treatise on Civil Government. Pay special attention to sections 123-127.

    • What does John Locke mean by common to all men versus proper to his own person?
    • What things count as common?
    • What things are proper, or owned by one person?
    • What is it that makes something, which was once common, my own?
    • Describe the role of labor and the meaning of enclosure.

Review his description of property, a central notion for Locke, in Chapter 5 of his Second Treatise on Civil Government. Pay special attention to sections 25-35.

    • What is the basis of a political society according to John Locke?
    • Why would someone want to join together into a society?
    • Once people have formed a community, what are its characteristics?
    • How closely and how firmly joined together are they who have formed a society?
    • What obligations do I have to a society, once it has been formed?

Review Locke's description of the formation of political societies in Chapter 8 of his Second Treatise on Civil Government. Pay special attention to sections 95-99.

2d: Apply theories of freedom and distribution of wealth to specific situations.

    • What is the importance of consent in today's society?
    • What was the importance of consent for John Locke?
    • What does Michael Sandel mean by pre-political?

Review the lecture Part 1 This Land is My Land (until timestamp 25:11) by Michael Sandel.

Review the lecture Part 2 Consenting Adults (after timestamp 25:12) by Michael Sandel.

    • How does taxation relate to consent according to John Locke?
    • How does taxation relate to freedom?
    • How does taxation relate to equality?
    • Should we impose taxes upon the rich for the good of the poor?
    • What would Robert Nozick think about using taxation for more equitable distribution? Would John Locke agree?
    • What concepts in Locke’s Treatise would address this question?

Review taxation in Part 2 Consenting Adults (after timestamp 25:12) by Michael Sandel.

John Locke said that the majority cannot violate an individual's unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The legislature does not have the authority to arbitrarily take an individual's property without their consent. However, he also says it costs a lot of money to run the government and everyone has an equal obligation to contribute. We own our property, according to the laws of the community. He justifies taxation by saying the majority, as a collective consent, can legitimately impose taxes – in a way that is not arbitrary (i.e. everyone in the community is equally affected).

Robert Nozick argued that the state should play a minimal role in our lives, such as by serving as a night watchman, as we noted in learning outcome 2b. He believed it is okay for the state to tax citizens to pay for this minimalist role. However, any additional taxation is unfair because the state would be forcing citizens to contribute money they have worked hard for and earned, to use for someone else’s purposes.

2e: Compare and contrast theories of distributive justice and economic principles among Plato, Locke, Nozick, and Milton Friedman.

    • What functions should government perform according to Plato, John Locke, Robert Nozick, and Milton Friedman?
    • What are the responsibilities of citizens?
    • What are the rights of citizens?
    • What types of actions would be overstepping of the governments bounds, or overreaching of their responsibilities?
    • What job functions do you think government should perform?

Robert Nozick disagreed with John Rawls who argued that government should support distributive justice, the belief that principles of distribution should be equitable to everyone in the community. Nozick believed that government's role should be minimal, and restricted to protecting our activities and pursuits. Government should not be in the business of correcting economic inequities or disparities in distribution.

Nozick would have opposed the public assistance programs governments promote, such as healthcare, public education, public housing allowances, and unemployment. Current examples in the United States include Head Start, Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).

    • Should the rights the individual citizen or rights of the state as a whole come first according to Nozick?
    • How can I preserve my rights without the state, which represents the whole community?
    • Would I be able to enjoy the same rights if there were no state or society? How would Locke respond to this question?

Plato argued that we owe our lives to the state. Locke argued that the state owes its existence to the consent of the governed. This may sound like a chicken and egg scenario (which came first?), but the difference is important because it helps us define our worldview.

The way we think about government and its responsibilities shapes how we think about its functions and our individual liberties. How do you think Locke, Nozick, and Plato would answer the following questions? 

    • What responsibilities should individual citizens have toward their state agencies?
    • What responsibilities does the government have to provide for its citizens?
    • What role does private property have regarding these differing views of government?
    • Which of these thinkers reflects our ideals today, in your opinion?

Unit 2 Vocabulary

      • Allegory of the cave
      • Anarchy
      • Citizen
      • Citizenship
      • Civil government
      • Collectivism
      • Common
      • Common to all men
      • Consent
      • Consent of the governed
      • Democracy
      • Distributive justice
      • Divided line
      • Divisions of the state
      • Economic freedom
      • Enclosure
      • Essence
      • Entitlement theory
      • Form of the good
      • Form of justice
      • Freedom
      • Free market
      • French Revolution
      • Held in common
      • Invisible hand
      • John Locke
      • Labor
      • Laissez faire economics
      • Liberal
      • Liberalism
      • Libertarianism
      • Liberty
      • Liberty, equality, fraternity
      • Milton Friedman
      • Minarchist libertarianism
      • Minimalist state
      • Night Watchman
      • Paternalism
      • Plato’s idea of justice
      • Plato’s Theory of Forms
      • Political freedom
      • Political society
      • Progressive taxation
      • Proper to his own person
      • Property
      • Real
      • Redistributive taxation
      • Robert Nozick
      • Social Contract theory
      • Society
      • State
      • State of nature
      • Taxation
      • Theory of Forms
      • Three classes of people

Last modified: Wednesday, July 17, 2019, 6:57 PM