Introduction to Political Thought >> Content Detail



2Plato, Apology What are the charges (formal and informal) made against Socrates? Who is making the charges?

How does Socrates defend himself against the charges?

Socrates says he is not at all a clever speaker. Does he really mean this?

In what sense is Socrates a good citizen, if at all?
3Plato, Crito What are the arguments of the 'Laws' that Socrates presents to Crito for why he should obey the Laws, including his death sentence?

How persuasive are the arguments of the Laws? If you think they are not persuasive, why do you think Socrates accepts the ruling of the Laws?

Who is Socrates's real audience in the Crito? Is it Crito? (What do we know about Crito? What is his character?) Is it Athens?

Distinction between law and justice: Are the Laws just? If they are unjust, why should one obey them, if at all?
4Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethicsno questions
5-6Aristotle, Politics Book 1 (Entire)

How does Aristotle define the nature of a thing? What does he mean when he says that "man is by nature a political animal"? What distinguishes man from other animals?

Aristotle considers different relations within the household: master and slave, husband and wife, and father and children. What kind of slavery does Aristotle defend? How does he defend it?

Later in Book 1, in discussing relations between master and slave, male and female, and father and children, Aristotle states that "almost all things rule and are ruled according to nature" and that "excellence of character belongs to all of them" (Book 1, chapter 13). What are the excellences of slaves and women? How does the kind of rule differ in each case?

Aristotle distinguishes between two types of wealth acquisition: that for the sake of household management and retail trade. What is the difference between the two?

Book 2 (Chapters 1-5)

Aristotle considers Socrates's supposition in Plato's Republic that it is best for the state to be as unified as possible and Socrates's proposals that the family and private property be abolished such that wives, children, and property were owned in common. What, in Aristotle's view, is wrong with these proposals?

Book 3 (Entire)

In Book 3, Aristotle seeks to determine what a state is. He first considers what the state is composed of: citizens. What is a citizen, and what are the excellences of a citizen? What is the difference between a good man and a good citizen? Who is considered a citizen?

What are the different "true" forms of government? What are the different principles upon which each is based? What are the "perversions" of the "true" forms of government?

What does Aristotle mean by "justice is…equality-not, however, for all, but only for equals." (Book 3, chapter 9) Consider also his discussion of flute-players in Book 3, chapter 12.

What is the purpose of the state? For what sake does it exist? (Book 3, chapter 9)

Book 4 (Chapters 1-13)

What is the best or perfect form of government in the abstract? What form of government is actually the best for most states? (See, in particular, Book 4, chapters 1, 7, and 11)

What is the difference between democracy and oligarchy? What are the different types of each?

What is "polity" or "constitutional government"? Why does Aristotle think that polity is the best practical form of government?

Book 5 (Chapters 1-5, 8)

What are the primary causes of revolutions?

How can political regimes be preserved?

Book 6 (Chapters 1-5)

What is the principle upon which democracy is based? What are the characteristics of a democracy?

In discussing the varieties of democratic regimes, Aristotle states that the best type of democracy is one composed of an agricultural population, and the worst type is one in which "all share alike." Why does he think this?

Book 7 (Entire)

Aristotle claims that the best life is the "life of excellence." What does he mean by this? What are the three different types of goods that a person needs in order to lead such a life?

How does Aristotle respond to the question of whether the contemplative life (the life of the philosopher) or the active life (the life of the statesman) is the best life?

Is the best life for the individual the same as the best life for the city?

What are the conditions necessary for the best or ideal state? (Who should be included? Who excluded? What should be the character of the citizens? What should be its size?)

Aristotle states, "There are three things which make men good and excellent; these are nature, habit, and reason" (Book 7, chapter 13). How do each of these things make men good?

7Machiavelli, The PrinceMachiavelli categorizes political regimes into two main types: principalities and republics. What are the different types of principalities?

In chapters 6-9 of The Prince, Machiavelli discusses different ways of founding new principalities: through one's own arms and "skill" (virtù), through arms and the fortunes of others, through wickedness, or through the support of fellow citizens. What are some of the examples he gives of men who founded new principalities through their own skill (virtù)? What does he mean by "skill" (virtù)? For example, how did Cesare Borgia display this skill? (see chapter 7) What distinguishes Borgia from Agathocles the Sicilian, who lacked this skill in Machiavelli's view? (see chapter 8)

"A prince…must not have any other object nor any other thought, nor must he take anything as his profession but war, its institutions, and its discipline…" (chapter 14, p. 124). Why does Machiavelli attach so much importance to military art?

Why is it better for a prince to be feared than loved? (see chapter 17)

Machiavelli refers to "Fortune" throughout The Prince. He says, for example, that some princes acquired their principalities "by means of their own skill and not because of Fortune…" (p. 93), that "…Fortune is the arbiter of one half of our actions…" (159) and that "…it is better to be impetuous than cautious, because Fortune is a woman, and it is necessary, in order to keep her down, to beat her and to struggle with her" (162). What does he mean by "Fortune"?
8-9Machiavelli, The Discourses on Livy Machiavelli discusses both the Roman and Spartan republics. Which does he hold up as the model for republics, and why?

How does conflict between the people and the nobility help preserve freedom within republics? (see Discourses, Book 1, chapter 4)

How does Machiavelli criticize the Christian church? What, in Machiavelli's view, should be the role of religion in politics? (see Discourses, Book 1, chapters 11-12; Book 2, chapter 2)

Are there any moral constraints on politics in Machiavelli's view?

How does Machiavelli defend the republican form of government? In what ways is a republic more desirable than a principality?
10-12Hobbes, Leviathan How does Hobbes characterize human nature? What are the drives or motives of human beings? What do they desire? What, if anything, is their Summum Bonum (greatest good)?

How does Hobbes characterize the "NATURALL CONDITION of Mankind"? In what sense are men equal in the state of nature? Why is the state of nature a state of war? Do men have obligations in the state of nature?

What is Hobbes's understanding of liberty? (see chapters 14 and 21)

What are the Laws of Nature?

What is a contract? Are contracts entered into by fear obligatory? Do you agree?

How is a commonwealth instituted? How does Hobbes justify political authority?

Hobbes argues for absolute, indivisible sovereignty. How does he defend absolute sovereignty? What are the rights of the sovereign?

What, if any, are the limits on the power of the sovereign?

Hobbes argues that where there is no commonwealth there is no property. Why does he think this? (chapter 24) What do you think of this argument?

What is Hobbes's view of punishment? What purpose should punishment serve? (chapter 28)
13-15Locke, Second TreatiseState of Nature

How does Locke characterize the state of nature? What does he mean when he says that every man has a right to "be executioner of the law of nature"? What is the difference between the state of nature and the state of war?

How is Locke's view of the state of nature different from Hobbes's view?

Private Property

Locke discusses the origins of private property in chapter 5 of the Second Treatise. He states that God has given the earth to "mankind in common" (18). How do we get from property of "mankind in common" to private property? How does private property originate? What justifies private property?

Are there any limits on the accumulation of private property?

Locke argues that it is labor that "puts the difference of value on everything." He compares an acre of land planted with tobacco or sugar and an acre of land "without any husbandry upon it," and argues that the "improvement of labour makes the far greater part of the value." In fact, of the products of the earth useful to the life of man, nine-tenths (even ninety-nine hundredths) of the value of the products is derived from labor. (See p. 25) What do you think of this view?


What justifies political obligation? What role do consent and the will of the majority play in Locke's account of political obligation?

In contrast to Hobbes, Locke opposes absolute monarchy: "absolute monarchy, which by some men is counted the only government in the world, is indeed inconsistent with civil society, and so can be no form of civil government at all" (48). Why does Locke think this?

What is the primary end or purpose of government? Do you think Locke was misguided in trying to account for the legitimate functions of government in terms of the preservation of property?

What are the different powers of government, and what are the functions of each? Why is the legislative power supreme?

When are rebellions against government justified?
16-17Rousseau, Discourse on InequalityRousseau speaks of his method as "conjectural history." What does he mean by this?

Rousseau shares with Hobbes the view that man is not by nature political, but Rousseau thinks that Hobbes commits the same fallacy as other philosophers who have written on the state of nature: Hobbes attributes to natural man the passions and needs which he could only have acquired after the rise of reason and political society. What then is Rousseau's view of natural or pre-political man?

In distinguishing between man and all other animals, Rousseau points to free will and man's faculty for self-perfection or "perfectibility." How does Rousseau's idea of individual will differ from Hobbes's? Rousseau states that perfectibility is "the source of all man's misfortunes" (45). Why does he think this?

In tracing the "progress of inequality" among men, Rousseau moves from the development of society and the establishment of law and the right to property to despotism. How exactly does this "progress" occur? What role does man's pride and desire for esteem play in this "progress"? How did they arts emerge, and how did they lead to the loss of self-sufficiency? How was government established, and why, in Rousseau's view, is it illegitimate?
18-19Rousseau, Social ContractRousseau's aim in the Social Contract is to show how political rule can be made legitimate. In providing an answer, he draws on the idea of the social contract. His conception of the social contract is based on his notion of the general will. What is the general will? How do we get from individual wills to the general will? Is his distinction between the general will and the will of all defensible?

What is Rousseau's conception of liberty? He says that in moving into the civil state in which we are governed by the general will, we lose our natural liberty and gain civil and moral liberty. What is the difference between natural, civil, and moral liberty?

Rousseau states, "…whoever refuses to obey the general will be forced to do so by the entire body…he will be forced to be free" (150). What do you make of this statement? Is this a betrayal of liberty?

Rousseau argues that sovereignty is inalienable and indivisible. Who is the sovereign? Why is sovereignty inalienable and indivisible? What are the limits on sovereign power?

How does Rousseau define government? What is the relationship between the people and government? Does he favor one form of government (monarchy, aristocracy, or democracy) over others? Why or why not?

What is civil religion, and what purpose does it serve?
20Marx, "On the Jewish Question," and "1844 Manuscripts""On the Jewish Question", pp. 26-52.

The question that Marx addresses is how the emancipation of the Jews could be achieved. Liberals argued for separation of religion and politics (i.e. remove civil disabilities based on religion). Bruno Bauer, a philosopher who was a student of Hegel's, argued that emancipation of the Jews required that they renounce their religion. What does Marx think is wrong with both the liberal solution and Bauer's solution? What does Marx mean by emancipation? What is the difference between "political emancipation" and "human emancipation"?

In the second part of this work, Marx explores the nature of Jewishness; he thinks that the content of religious life provides clues to the social problems that give rise to religion. He says that the social form that Jewishness takes in Christian societies is worship of money, which is also the reality of Christian material life within commercial society. What is wrong with the worship of money at the heart of Christian commercial society? What does he mean when he calls for "the emancipation of society from Judaism"?

"Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844", pp. 70-81.

In the section titled "Estranged Labor," Marx discusses four aspects of alienation: alienation of the laborer from his product, alienation of the laborer from the act of production, the alienation from man's species being (what makes man a "species being" for Marx is the ability to create socially and reflect on the collective nature of such creative activity), and alienation of man from man. What does Marx mean by alienation? What does alienated labor have to do with private property?
21Marx, "Communist Manifesto" and Selections from Capital "Manifesto of the Communist Party", pp. 473-491.

This work was written jointly with Frederick Engels and published in the revolutionary year of 1848. In it, Marx and Engels sought to connect their account of historical development to the prospects for revolutionary politics. What different stages of historical development do they identify? How do we move from one stage to another? What does Marx mean when he says, "[T]he bourgeoisie…produces, above all, …its own grave-diggers" (p. 483)? What is the role of the proletarian class in this account of historical development?

Capital, pp. 302-8, 319-43, 361-84, 407-19.

In this work, Marx provides the political economy behind the moral arguments of the 1844 Manuscripts. How does Marx define the following terms: commodity, use-value, and exchange-value?

Labor-power is a commodity; unlike all other commodities, labor-power creates exchange-value. This unique feature of labor-power explains the source of profits in a capitalist system. What is the relationship between the exchange value of a product and the labor time socially necessary to produce it?

What is the Fetishism of commodities? What are its origins?

What is the difference between absolute and relative surplus value? What is exploitation, and how does Marx calculate the rate of exploitation?
22-24Tocqueville, Democracy in AmericaBased on his travels through America in 1830, one central observation that Tocqueville made was that Americans were "born equal." What did he mean by this?

How does Tocqueville distinguish between governmental and administrative centralization? Why are democratic nations more likely to fall under the "yoke of administrative centralization"? What did he see as the political effects of administrative decentralization in America?

What are the main types of associations in America? What are their aims?

What are the main advantages of democracy in Tocqueville's view? What are its disadvantages?

Tocqueville regarded tyranny of the majority as the greatest threat to liberty in America. What is tyranny of the majority? How does it come about? How can it be prevented or at least tempered?

He identifies three main factors that have helped maintain a democratic republic in the United States: good luck, laws, and mores. What does he mean by mores or "habits of the heart"? (Vol. 1, Part 2, chapter 9, p. 287) Which of these factors is most influential, and why?

How has religion contributed directly or indirectly to the maintenance of a democratic republic in America?

In what ways is slavery bad for the white majority in Tocqueville's view? What judgments does he offer about the enslavement of blacks and the extermination of Native Americans in America? What did he predict about race relations in America after the abolition of slavery?

What is Tocqueville's conception of liberty?

Why in democratic nations do people "love" or have passion for equality more than liberty? How does this passion for equality threaten liberty?

Tocqueville discusses how equality of conditions can breed "individualism", which in turn leads to despotism. How does this development occur? How does Tocqueville characterize the "despotism" that democratic nations have to fear?

What is "the doctrine of self-interest properly understood"? How does it combat individualism?

What is the influence of democracy on the manners or mores of the people in general and on relations between master and servant, on the family, and on the education of girls in particular?
25Concluding Lecture
26Final Exam


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