Political Science

Course:  PLS 170  Introduction to Political Philosophy

Credits:             3   Lecture/Recitation/Discussion Hours: 3 3(3-0)

 001      3               M W              12:40p              2:00p              109            South Kedzie  Allen W              149  150  189

 002      3              TU TH              8:30a              9:50a              402            Computer Center            Allen W            106  150  219 

W. Allen

324 South Kedzie Hall


Office Hours: contact Ms Gordon: 353-3290, gordons@msu.edu

Teaching Assistants:

Ben Lundgren 230 SKH                                                         William Bewick 234SKH

phone # 432-0992                                                                phone # 351-8089

lundgr12@msu.edu                                                                   bewickwi@msu.edu  

Office Hours:  M 12:30-2                                                       Office Hours:  W 2-3

Description:            Basic questions of political philosophy as considered from ancient to modern times. Primary focus on the origins, defense, and radical critiques of modern liberal democracy.


            What is Political Power?  Is virtue teachable?  What is the best regime?  Is human nature fixed or evolving?  What is justice?

            These and related questions are the heart and soul of political philosophy.  They all point to an inescapable truth, namely, that human beings begin their search for truth by struggling with the first claims upon themselves that they recognize.

            In this class we seek to recreate the discovery experience of asking “what is the good?”  We will do so by rehearsing the records left by those persons most eminent in the pursuit of that question.  Because this is a large class, we must undertake this work by means of lecture.  However, we will not neglect to make time for inquiry within class.  Participants may, and should, raise questions.  Moreover, the instructor likely shall from time to time call upon participants to respond to particular questions of the day.

            By the end of the course each participant who has seen the course through to its conclusion should be equipped to deal directly with questions of political philosophy in a more than elementary manner.

            The readings and activities for the course are set forth below on a week-by-week schedule.  Each participant in the course is individually responsible for fulfilling the requirements of the course as they are set out.  Each must affirm to perform all assignments as required and that all work submitted in response to assignments is one’s own


This course will be conducted in accord with MSU and Department of Political Science policies respecting academic honesty and academic responsibility.  Anyone in doubt about the requirements of those codes and policies should contact the professor at the outset of the course.

BOOKS:            One finds most of the books to be referred to in this course in the local bookstores, either the MSU Bookstore at the International Center or the independent bookstores in East Lansing.  Because they are numerous, although the readings are short, it may be convenient to find copies elsewhere.  They should also be available at the MSU Library on the reserve list for PLS170.  Also, versions of classical texts will be available through on-line resources as indicated.  Note, though, that this reading list is a good start on a great library! Finally, the Course Pack is available at Ned's Bookstore.

Required Texts:


Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Aristot.+Nic.+Eth.+

Aristotle, Politics  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Aristot.+Pol.+1252a

Plato, Meno  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Plat.+Meno+70a

Plato, Gorgias  http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Plat.+Gorg.+447a

Plato, Crito http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Plat.+Crito+43a

Xenophon, Symposium http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Xen.+Sym.+1.1

Aquinas, Treatise on Law  http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2.htm

Vitoria, Commentary on Homicide [Blackboard “Course Documents”]

Machiavelli, The Prince JC143 .M3813 1997 or http://www.constitution.org/mac/prince00.htm

Hobbes, Leviathan JC153 .H65 1996b or  http://www.constitution.org/th/leviatha.txt

Hamilton, Madison, Jay, The Federalist Papers  JK154 1961  c.2 or http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/federal/fed.htm

Allen, The Federalist Papers: A Commentary KF4515 .A43 2000 

Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program HX276 .M2813 1972 or http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1875/gotha/index.htm

Marx, German Ideology HX276 .M2713 1947 or http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/index.htm

Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols B3313 .G6713 1998 or http://www.handprint.com/SC/NIE/GotDamer.html

Recommended Texts:

Iain Hampsher-Monk, History of Modern Political Thought

Leo Strauss, History of Political Philosophy JA81 .S75 1972  c.2

Leo Strauss, Introduction to Political Philosophy: Ten Essays…  JA71 .S794 1989  

Tocqueville, Democracy in America  http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/DETOC/home.html

Weekly Reading Schedule:

MON/TUE                                                                  WED/THUR

Diamond I (coursepack)

Selznick I (coursepack)


Diamond II (coursepack)

Selznick II (coursepack)

Elkins (coursepack)

Arnhart (coursepack)

Rawls (coursepack)



Aristotle, Ethics, I


* Aristotle, Ethics, II

One page paper due

Plato, Meno


* Aristotle, Ethics, III-IV

One page paper due

* Plato, Gorgias


Aristotle, Ethics, V

One page paper due

Plato, Crito

Xenophon, Symposium


* Aristotle, Politics, I

One page paper due

Aquinas, Treatise, Qu 90-97 & Vitoria, Commentary



Machiavelli, Prince, 1-12


* Aristotle, Politics, II-III

One page paper due





* Machiavelli, Prince, 13-26


Aristotle, Politics, IV-V

One page paper due

* Hobbes, pp. 1-104


Hobbes, pp. 104-136

One page paper due

* Federalist Papers, #s 1, 10, 37, 39, 51


Hobbes, pp. 139-180

One page paper due

Federalist Papers, #s 57, 69, 70, 78, 84, 85


* Marx, German Ideology & * Gotha Program

One page paper due

Allen, Pts. I-III


* Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

One page paper due

* Allen, Pts. IV-V


Strauss, Plan of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil

One page paper due

Allen, Pts. VI-VIII


Allen, Epilogue







1.      Attendance on each lecture in the course, as reflected by log-in records and participant affirmation. Electronic registration will be in use in SKH-109 (both sections may attend there), and a sign-in sheet will be in use in Computer Center-402.

2.      Classroom participation – Regular reading of lesson assignments, as attested by participant affirmation.

3.      Pre-test:      By the fourth session, participants will be asked to take a pre-test, based on the readings and discussions of the first three class sessions.  The test will be administered on-line, solely during the period of time set aside for the class meeting itself.  The Pre-test will be graded on the evaluation scale applying to the class as a whole.  The absolute grade achieved on that test will constitute the course grade for the entire semester, subject to the exceptions, terms and conditions following:

·        Participants in the class must fulfill all other requirements of the class in order for the Pre-test grade to be applied as described.

·        Independent of the evaluation of the other elements of class requirements, the Pre-test grade will be the grade for the semester, provided it is the highest of the two grades computed.

·        Class participants can improve their grade beyond the Pre-test grade, but they cannot lower it unless they fail to meet all other requirements, including regular attendance.

4. EXPLICATION DU TEXTE: Each class member must prepare a brief summary or “explication du texte” starting in Week Three.  The material to be covered has been indicated by an asterisk (*) in the "Weekly Reading Schedule." The summary must not exceed one page in length, and must be turned in no later than the last class in each week.  Class members turning in the assignment each week may be randomly selected to read their papers to the class.  The papers should be submitted either via the “Digital Drop Box” through the on-line version of the course.  To access the course on-line version you will need your Pilot userid and password.  Go to: http://blackboard.msu.edu.

Each “explication” paper will be worth four(4) points toward the semester grade. 

5.      Mid-Term Essay: Each class participant must submit on-line a brief essay (ca. 1500 words) at the end of seventh week of the seminar.  Use the "Digital Drop Box." That essay shall discuss the question of “What is Political Power?”

The Mid-Term essay shall account for twenty-five per cent (25%) of the term credit.

6.      Final Paper: Each class participant must submit a final essay, responding to the question, “How does political philosophy identify the good regime?”  The Final Paper must reflect research in the course materials and may include research in the secondary materials recommended.  The Final Paper must be submitted on-line via the "Digital Dropbox" and shall not exceed ten pages, double spaced in 11-pt font.

The Term Paper shall account for thirty-five percent (35%) of the term credit.

7.      5. PARTICIPATION:  5 points Extra.  In addition to evaluation of in-class presentation, class members will have opportunity to participate through the “Discussion Board” on-line as well as in class-room discussion.

Honors Requirement: Honors students may additionally complete an assignment based on further readings.  This work will be supervised by Mr. Allen, and Honor students will meet with him on an arranged basis to monitor the progress of the work.

Grade calculation

Course averages, on the 100-point scale, will be converted to MSU 4-point grades on the following table:

96-100 = 4.0

90-95   = 3.5

84-89   = 3.0

78-83   = 2.5

72-77   = 2.0

66-71   = 1.5

60-65   = 1.0

< 60     = 0.0


*           *            *            *            *


Criteria Used in Evaluating Written Work:

While there will be many opportunities for oral discussion of written work, it will be helpful to adopt a grading scale and to commit ourselves to the use of certain explicit criteria.

The scale is numerical, as follows:

1-                  excellent

2-                  good

3-                  satisfactory

4-                  poor

5-                  very poor

To receive a 1 rating a paper should demonstrate the following:

a.                 There should be a clearly stated thesis and a clearly developed line of argument.

b.                 There should be a sense of organization in both the individual paragraphs and in the theme as a whole.

c.                  The individual paragraphs should be developed and related logically to one another and to the thesis of the paper as a whole.

d.                 There should be few glaring errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.

e.                  Generalizations should be supported by concrete supporting evidence, and the paper should avoid stereotyped lines of argumentation.

To receive a 2 rating a paper should have all the ingredients of an excellent essay (1 rating), except that there will probably be minor problems in one or two of the above areas (a-e).

To receive a 3 rating a paper should demonstrate the following:

a.                 The basic criteria for a satisfactory essay is that the student must make himself understood and must communicate ideas in spite of some technical problems.

b.                 It follows that a paper receiving a 3 rating should demonstrate by college standards an adequate sense of organization, paragraphing, argumentation, spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.  Otherwise, of course, the student will not communicate ideas clearly and concisely.

Essays receiving a 4 rating are generally characterized by any combination of the following:

a.                 There is oftentimes an insufficient development of ideas.

b.                 The student often avoids discussing the topic.

c.                  There are frequent errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.

d.                 There is no clearly stated thesis and no clearly developed argument.

e.                  Principles of organizing both paragraphs and the theme as a whole are ignored or applied in a very haphazard manner.

f.                    There is oftentimes a lack of adequate subordination and coordination of ideas, thus resulting in too many short, choppy sentences.

g.                 Generalizations oftentimes go unsupported by concrete detail, and the line of argument (if one exists) is oftentimes a rehash of cliches and stereotypes.

Essays receiving a 5 rating are generally characterized by the student’s inability to make himself understood due to frequent and major problems in many of the above areas (a-g of the 4 rated essays).  Due to these problems the essay is almost incoherent.

* Martin Diamond, “The Dependence of Fact Upon ‘Value’;” Philip Selznick, “Reason and Rationalism;” Martin Diamond, “Ethics and Politics;” Philip Selznick, “Human Nature Revisited;” Stephen Elkin, “Some Considerations on Political Judgment;” John Rawls, “Fundamental Ideas;” Larry Arnhart, “Equality and Liberty: Rawls’s Theory of Justice.”

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