Introduction to Political Philosophy

About the Course

This course is intended as an introduction to political philosophy as seen through an examination of some of the major texts and thinkers of the Western political tradition. Three broad themes that are central to understanding political life are focused upon: the polis experience (Plato, Aristotle), the sovereign state (Machiavelli, Hobbes), constitutional government (Locke), and democracy (Rousseau, Tocqueville). The way in which different political philosophies have given expression to various forms of political institutions and our ways of life are examined throughout the course.

View class sessions »

Course Structure

This Yale College course, taught on campus twice per week for 50 minutes, was videotaped for Open Yale Courses in Fall 2006.

The Open Yale Courses Series

For more information about Professor Smith’s book Political Philosophy, click here.

Course Materials

Download all course pages [zip - 10MB]

Video and audio elements from this course are also available on:

About Professor Steven B. Smith

Steven B. Smith is the Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science and Master of Branford College at Yale. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1981. At Yale he has served as the Director of Graduate Studies in Political Science, Director of the Undergraduate Program in Humanities, and Acting Chair of Judaic Studies. His research has been focused on the history of political philosophy and the role of statecraft in constitutional government. His recent publications include Spinoza, Liberalism, and Jewish Identity, Spinoza's Book of Life, and Reading Leo Strauss.

Share This Course:

Syllabus

Professor

Steven B. Smith, Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science

Description

This course is intended as an introduction to political philosophy as seen through an examination of some of the major texts and thinkers of the Western political tradition. Three broad themes that are central to understanding political life are focused upon: the polis experience (Plato, Aristotle), the sovereign state (Machiavelli, Hobbes), constitutional government (Locke), and democracy (Rousseau, Tocqueville). The way in which different political philosophies have given expression to various forms of political institutions and our ways of life are examined throughout the course.

Texts

Plato, Trial and Death of Socrates
Plato, Republic
Aristotle, Politics
Machiavelli, The Prince
Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
John Locke, Second Treatise of Government
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Political Writings
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Requirements

There will be three short papers (5-7 pages each) and a final exam. Attendance and participation in weekly discussion sections is a further requirement.

Grading

Short papers: 20% each (total: 60%)
Final examination: 20%
Discussion section attendance and participation: 20%

Sessions

Lecture 1 Introduction: What Is Political Philosophy?
Lecture 2 Socratic Citizenship: Plato, Apology
Lecture 3 Socratic Citizenship: Plato, Crito
Lecture 4 Philosophers and Kings: Plato, Republic, I-II
Lecture 5 Philosophers and Kings: Plato, Republic, III-IV
Lecture 6 Philosophers and Kings: Plato, Republic, V
Lecture 7 The Mixed Regime and the Rule of Law: Aristotle, Politics, I, III
Lecture 8 The Mixed Regime and the Rule of Law: Aristotle, Politics, IV
Lecture 9 The Mixed Regime and the Rule of Law: Aristotle, Politics, VII
Lecture 10 New Modes and Orders: Machiavelli, The Prince (chaps. 1-12)
Lecture 11 New Modes and Orders: Machiavelli, The Prince (chaps. 13-26)
Lecture 12 The Sovereign State: Hobbes, Leviathan
Lecture 13 The Sovereign State: Hobbes, Leviathan
Lecture 14 The Sovereign State: Hobbes, Leviathan
Lecture 15 Constitutional Government: Locke, Second Treatise (1-5)
Lecture 16 Constitutional Government: Locke, Second Treatise (7-12)
Lecture 17 Constitutional Government: Locke, Second Treatise (13-19)
Lecture 18 Democracy and Participation: Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality (Author's Preface, Part I)
Lecture 19 Democracy and Participation: Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality (Part II)
Lecture 20 Democracy and Participation: Rousseau, Social Contract, I-II
Lecture 21 Democratic Statecraft: Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Lecture 22 Democratic Statecraft: Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Lecture 23 Democratic Statecraft: Tocqueville, Democracy in America
Lecture 24 In Defense of Politics

Survey

Please take a few minutes to share your thoughts about this course through the survey linked below. We also invite you to provide general feedback about Open Yale Courses by visiting the Feedback area of the site.

Take the survey

Join a Study Group

Through a pilot arrangement with Open Yale Courses, OpenStudy offers tools to participate in online study groups for a selection of Open Yale Courses, including PLSC 114. If you wish to participate in one of these study groups, you will need to register for a free account with OpenStudy.

View study group

OpenStudy is not affiliated with Yale University. For more information regarding Open Yale Courses linking policy, please consult the Terms of Use.

Course Books and Other Related Titles

Yale University Press offers a 10% discount on the books used in PLSC 114 that it publishes, as well as on other related titles. A portion of the proceeds from your purchases will be donated for the ongoing support and development of the Open Yale Courses program.

View the catalog for this course