Spring 2009 Course Descriptions

Spring 2009 Courses

Introduction To Political Theory, or How To Rule The World

Course & Class Num: POLS 3310H, 24914
Time & Location: TTH 10:00 – 11:30, 212J L
Instructor: Susan Collins

This course may be your one chance to learn how to rule the world—or, failing that, how to be satisfied with not ruling the world. That fulfilling such an ambition should require the quiet study of seminal texts of political philosophy should come as no surprise to Honors students. Yet why should the question of such ambition be of concern to those of us who may be struggling simply to make it through the semester and occasionally balance our checkbook? As pointer to the fundamental issues of politics, this question alerts us to the possibility that our world—the world into which we have been born and are shaped—was itself created or shaped by thinkers and rulers whose ambition it was to rule the world. It thus matters to us what they sought to establish as the foundations and ruling principles of our world and so what they concluded about the following kinds of questions: Is the fundamental human condition war or peace? Is there such a thing as justice? Do human beings have a nature or are we products of history? Can chance or fortune be controlled and political order established in perpetuity? Is wisdom an end in itself or simply a tool for gaining power over others? In addition to other shorter readings, the major works of the course will be Machiavelli’s The Prince, Xenophon’s The Education of Cyrus, Plato’s Apology and Gorgias, Hobbes’s Leviathan, Rousseau’s Second Discourse, and (possibly) Kant’s To Perpetual Peace.

Ancient and Medieval Political Thought

Course & Class Num: POLS 3340H, 27029
Time & Location: TTH 1:00 – 2:30, TBA
Instructor: Susan Collins

In this course, we will strive to recover an understanding of Ancient-Medieval political philosophy. At first blush, this tradition may seem far from us, yet it continues to speak to the deepest of human concerns, and especially to our profound concern for justice in a world in which, as Machiavelli chillingly insisted, the good human being invariably falls among those who are “not so good.” After using Machiavelli’s Prince to consider the distance between modern realism and the Ancient-Medieval world, we will take up the political philosophy of Aristotle—the Ancient philosopher that Jewish, Islamic, and Christian thinkers of the Medieval period honored most simply with the title “The Philosopher.” With the aid of Aristotle’s two major works of political philosophy, The Nicomachean Ethics and Politics, we will discuss how classical thought approached political life: for example, its central concern with ethics and human happiness; its insistence on the priority of community, law, and moral education; and its understanding of human nature and the perfection of virtue in the best life. Our study of the Medieval tradition will draw from Islamic (Averroes, Avicenna, and Alfarabi), Jewish (Maimonides), and Christian (Thomas Aquinas) thinkers. In addition to discussing how Medieval thought embraced and diverged from the classical tradition it confronted, we will seek also to comprehend how these thinkers reconciled the centrality of faith with the brute facts or effective truths of politics—a problem still very much alive today and not likely to wither away.

American Political Thought

Course & Class Num: POLS 3349H, 23264
Time & Location: TTH 2:30 – 4:00, 202 AH
Instructor: Christine LeVeaux

This course is designed to acquaint the student with the political philosophies that structure the institutions and processes of the American political system. Through class lectures we will explore the early writings of the founders to establish a foundation, then we will move through the years and through writings and court cases to examine contemporary political thought. This course aims to cultivate an awareness of current political activity in the U.S. as well as encourage students to develop and voice opinions about American political thought and the resulting policies and institutions.

History of 17th Century Philosophy

Course & Class Num: PHIL 3304, 21680
Time & Location: TTH 1:00 – 2:30, 104 AH
Instructor: Helen Hattab

The goal of this course is to understand and critically examine the philosophical origins of modern Western thought. We will begin with key texts by Francis Bacon, Galileo Galilei, and René Descartes that spearheaded the scientific and philosophical revolution of the early seventeenth century. After familiarizing ourselves with these scientific methods and mechanistic/atomistic worldviews, we will study the new theories of knowledge and metaphysical principles that Descartes, Spinoza, Hobbes, Locke, and Leibniz developed in the wake of the new science. Finally, we will trace how some of these new philosophies (most notably Hobbes’ materialism and Spinoza’s monism) changed the conception of human nature and foundations of political philosophy.

Classics in the History of Ethics

Course & Class Num: PHIL 3358H, 28189
Time & Location: MW 1:00 – 2:30, 9 AH
Instructor: David Phillips

This course focuses on readings from both classic and contemporary writings, in the broadly liberal tradition of political thought.

Law, Society, & Morality

Course & Class Num: PHIL 3375H, 28190
Time & Location: TTH 11:30 – 1:00, 201 SEC
Instructor: William Nelson

This is an introduction to the Philosophy of Law. Roughly the first half of the course introduces classic works on the nature of law and legal systems, the idea of the rule of law, and principles of judicial decision-making. (Typical readings from Aquinas, Austin, Hart, Holmes, Frank, Lyons, etc.) The second half will focus on some illustrative problem, such as the fugitive slave decisions, freedom of religion, or the content, limits, and justification of property rights.

Kierkegaard and Nietzsche

Course & Class Num: PHIL 3395H, 28192
Time & Location: MWF 11:00 – 12:00, 212L L
Instructor: Iain Morrisson

This course will focus on a close reading of two of the great works of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Both thinkers are concerned with the destiny of Western culture in a Post-Enlightenment landscape. Their explorations move fluidly from the most personal of experiential observations to difficult allusions to the history of Western thinking and thus demand careful, slow, and precise reading. There will be several graduate students in the class, and so the discussions will be pitched at a fairly advanced level.


Course & Class Num: PHIL 3395H, 28205
Time & Location: MW 2:30 – 4:00, 204 AH
Instructor: Tamler Sommers

This course examines a wide range of philosophical theories of punishment, paying close attention to what these theories presume about human agency and responsibility. Questions to discussed include: What right do we have punish wrongdoers? Should our justification of punishment focus on the benefits it provides for society or on giving criminals their “just-deserts”? To what extent should we take the background and/or the genetic predispositions of criminals into account (à la Minority Report)? Is it morally wrong to punish likely criminals before they commit their crimes? Throughout the course we will hold the empirical assumptions in leading theories of punishment under scrutiny to see how they cohere with contemporary models of human action in the sciences.

Roman, Jew, and Christian: The Politics and Sociology of Religion in the First Century A.D.

Course & Class Num: CLAS 3375H, 25154
Instructor: Richard Armstrong

The first century A. D. was a time of significant transformation for the Roman Empire, for adherents to the Jewish religion everywhere around the Mediterranean world, and for the earliest Christian communities. This class will focus on the religious and administrative framework of the Eastern Roman Empire as a way of understanding how religious, social, political, and historical differences conditioned the interactions between the Romans, their Jewish subjects, and the emergent Jesus movement. The course readings will comprise both original historical sources (such as Josephus, Tacitus, Cassius Dio, Qumran texts, the New Testament, and other early Christian writings) and secondary scholarly literature. While people of faith will find much that is useful in the course, it is not designed to address the substantive claims of any religion, only to show how religious communities interacted according to their cultural and political configurations.

The American Founding

Course & Class Num: POLS 4394H, 27040
Time & Location: TTH 2:30 – 4:00, 202 AH
Instructor: Jeremy Bailey

This course will consider whether there is a political theory of the American Founding. We begin by seeing to understand “founding” as a concept and then examine the central figures associated with the founding of the American republic. Because this inquiry necessarily involves a consideration of political thought and political practice, we will have to consider several methods of interpreting the texts we encounter. Readings will include selections from the anti-Federalists, The Federalist Papers, Madison, Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton, and others. Students will be asked to write a research paper.

Ideologies, Belief Systems, and Political Movements

Course & Class Num: POLS 4394, TBA
Time & Location: TBA
Instructor: Gregory Weiher

At the base of many of the political developments that are currently in the news are ideologies – Islamic militancy, neoconservatism, Chavismo, and so on. This course examines the most important theories of ideology as constructed by Mannheim, Gramsci, Geertz, and others. It also looks at the beliefs that comprise the classical ideologies that arose in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – liberalism, conservatism, and socialism – and more recent ideologies that have dramatically changed the course of world events – fascism and nationalism, Islamic fundamentalism, neoconservatism, populism. It has several basic premises. One is that ideologies are different from political philosophies in that they are meant specifically to precipitate political and social action. Another is that all belief systems are in some sense ideological in that they arise from the social and political position of the group in question and are meant to justify particular sets of political and social arrangements. From the perspective of the social scientist then, it is not useful to characterize some ideologies as good or bad but to try to understand their central components and how they work. The course uses the sociology of knowledge as a working methodology, although weaknesses in this approach will also be explored. Consequently, the definition of ideology with which we begin is basically a sociological one – that an ideology is a system of beliefs and values that is used by a group or groups (very loosely defined) to justify social and political claims.