CLASS MEETS:  3:30-4:45 p.m. MW                                             

ROOM: DU 459

INSTRUCTOR NATHAN DINNEEN                                              


OFFICE HOURS: 4:45- 5:45pm MW                                              

                        AND BY APPOINTMENT

Please email at



What this course will study


Philosophy is understood as the “love of wisdom.” What does it mean to qualify philosophy in terms of “the political”?  Cicero, perhaps, says it best: “Whereas philosophy prior to Socrates was concerned with numbers and motions and with whence all things came and where they go, Socrates was the first to call philosophy down from heaven and to place it in cities, and even to introduce it into the household, and to compel philosophy to inquire about life and manners and about good and bad.” Political philosophy, then, is chiefly concerned with human action, thereby making it the central theme of philosophy. 


One could say that those who inquire into the nature of human actions are political philosophers. Such an inquiry, however, does not yield consistent results.  Political philosophers differ over what human nature is or even what “nature in general” is.  The purposeful activity of human action, as a result, is understood in various ways based upon varying notions of human nature. Do human beings have a purpose other than the ones that they have willed or created?  If so, how do the notions of necessity, choice, chance, and the divine influence our understanding of human action?  These questions are fundamentally interested in the possibility of “wise action.”


The understanding of wise action requires that there be someone who is able to distinguish between good and bad action, that is, a wise person.  Philosophers by no means alone have an unchallenged right to this title.  Poets, prophets, politicians, and many more seek to have this reputation bestowed upon them.  In other words, claims to wisdom are contested.  In our course of study, we will examine three quarrels regarding the contest of wisdom: the quarrel between philosophy and poetry, the quarrel between ancient and moderns, and the quarrel between biblical religion and philosophy.  The first and third quarrels as you can plainly see involve philosophy.  The second quarrel does so as well.  One, in fact, could say that it is a civil war within philosophy between ancient and modern political philosophers.  The thinkers that I have chosen to shed light on these quarrels are Plato, Machiavelli, and Spinoza.  In addition to them, we will read Rousseau, who was the first, besides Jonathan Swift, to indicate the crises ushered in by modern thought.                            


By the end of the semester, you should have a basic understanding of the three quarrels and know how they relate to political philosophy. 


Required Texts


Please purchase the following editions.  We will frequently refer to them in class and it will be time consuming and confusing if we do not all have the same editions.


Plato, The Republic of Plato, trans. Allan Bloom

Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield

Spinoza, Theologico-Political Treatise, trans. Martin Yaffe

Rousseau, The First and Second Discourses, trans. Roger and Judith Masters


Tentative Schedule


8/28          Introduction: Political Philosophy and the Three Quarrels

8/30          Machiavelli, The Prince, Dedicatory Letter, Chap. 1-7

9/4              NO CLASS

9/6              Machiavelli, Chap. 8-14

9/11          Machiavelli, Chap. 15-21, QUIZ #1

9/13         Machiavelli, Chap. 22-26, Appendix, p. 107-111,

(Pass out Essay Questions for Paper #1)

9/18          Plato, The Republic, Book I

9/20          Plato, Book II

9/25          Plato, Book III, PAPER #1 DUE

9/27          Plato, Book IV

10/2          Plato, Book V

10/4          Plato, Book VI and QUIZ #2

10/9          Plato, Book VII

10/11      Plato, Book VIII

10/16     Plato, Book IX

10/18      Plato, Book, X, (Pass out Essay Questions for Paper #2)

[Note: October 20th is the Last Day to withdraw from class]

10/23      Spinoza, Theologico-Political Treatise, Preface (xv-xxiii), Chap. 2-4

10/25      Spinoza, Chap. 5-7

10/30      Spinoza, Chap. 11-14, PAPER #2 DUE

11/1          Spinoza, Chap. 15-16

11/6          Spinoza, Chap. 17-18, and QUIZ #3

11/8          Spinoza, Chap. 19-20

11/13      Chesterton (Handout), (Pass out Essay Questions for Paper #3)

11/20      Rousseau, First Discourse

11/22      NO CLASS

11/27      Rousseau, First Discourse, PAPER #3 DUE

11/29      Rousseau, Second Discourse and QUIZ #4;

(Pass out Essay Questions for Paper #4)

12/4          Rousseau, Second Discourse

12/6          Rousseau, Second Discourse and Final Thoughts

12/11      Final 4-5:50 p.m., PAPER #4 DUE




1.  Attendance: Attendance at each class is both expected and required. Attendance will be taken at most classes after the first few days.  It will be taken at the beginning of each class.  Should students arrive “reasonably” late, that is, after attendance has been taken, they will not receive full credit.  Instead, they will be marked absent with a note that they arrived late.  If students are “unreasonably” late, they will not receive any credit whatsoever.  In addition, students who leave class early will be counted absent.  After three absences, each absence after it will lower a student’s final course grade by a letter grade.  


[“10 Minute Rule”:  In the unforeseeable and unlikely event that the instructor is later than 10 minutes, the class is cancelled.] 


2.  Class Preparation:  The best way to prepare for each class is to read the entire assigned portion of each book prior to the first day we begin that book.  While one reading of this material is not sufficient, the lectures and class discussion will be easier to grasp if you have done at least that much.


3.  Class Participation: The proper kind of participation in the class is expected, required and rewarded.  What is meant by the proper kind of participation is as follows: 

                        First, participation means being attentive to the lectures and discussions. Students who sleep, read the newspaper, persistently talk with other students or are otherwise inattentive to the lectures and discussions will not be tolerated.  At the instructor’s discretion, you may be administratively dismissed from the course. 

                        Second, participation requires that you are prepared to be questioned about each reading. Moreover, the lectures will presuppose students’ familiarity with the readings.  Good students will not only be present and attentive in class, they will also actively participate by answering the instructor’s questions about the reading, by asking intelligent questions and by making thoughtful observations.

                        It is important that you understand the kind of discussion sought.  The purpose of discussion is to enable students to raise questions concerning the meaning of the lectures or texts and to relate different arguments, passages and insights to each other. Above all, discussion and the instructor’s questioning of your comments are meant to help you learn how to express your thoughts coherently. 

                        Some classes will be mainly lecture and discussion but most will involve reading and discussing passages from the readings.  Since classes are usually conducted by reading and discussing passages from the assigned readings, it is necessary that you bring the appropriate readings to class.  Failure to comply with this policy could result in you being counted absent and your final grade being lowered.  


4.  Quizzes and Papers

                       Quizzes are given at the beginning of the class.  No make-up quizzes will be given.  The quizzes are short answer.  They will cover the assigned readings and what has been discussed in class.

                        In your papers you are to respond to a list of topics that the instructor will hand out.  Each paper is to be no more than 600 words.  You must include a word count at the end of each paper.

An “A” on a written assignment requires that you show clarity, economy, and focus.  To achieve such results, you must first attempt to understand the author as he understood himself.  This attempt requires that you cite the passages of the author that are relevant to answering the paper topic.  Yet, when citing it is best if you paraphrase the author’s thoughts so that I can determine if you know what the author is saying.  In other words, you should rarely quote from the text.  Instead, paraphrase the thought of the author and then place the page number of the text you are paraphrasing at the end of the sentence.  This way the instructor can know that you diligently read the text and also compare your paraphrase to the author’s own words.  It should be noted that I do not expect you to reword common ideas (e.g., “state of nature” or “the best regime”).  In fact, it is best if you stick to the wording of the authors while making your argument.  What I do not want, however, is for your paper to be made entirely of quotes that contain sentence after sentence of the author’s own words.  Lastly, there is no need to appeal to the arguments of the scholars of Plato, Machiavelli, Spinoza, and Rousseau. Stick to the original text and you should be fine, which means do not quote from the instructor’s lecture either.  You must supply textual evidence for your argument.  That said, your lecture notes, however, may help guide your analysis of the original text.        


Papers are due on the date specified.  Papers over a week late will not be accepted.  Late papers will be reduced by a letter grade.


Plagiarism will result in you failing, at least, that assignment and, perhaps, the course.


5.  Final Grade:  

1.          Final grades are based on 3 out of the 4 quizzes, 3 out of the 4 papers, the quality of class participation, and, to a certain degree, on attendance.  The lowest quiz and paper grade will be dropped.

Š             Quizzes                                                         20%

Š             Participation                                          20%

Š             Papers                                                            60%

2.          No one will receive an “A” who does not demonstrate the kind of class participation indicated above.

3.          Final course grade is reduced one letter grade for each absence over 3. 




Undergraduate Writing Awards: The Department of Political Science will recognize, on an annual basis, outstanding undergraduate papers written in conjunction with 300-400 level political science courses or directed studies. Authors do not have to be political science majors or have a particular class standing. Winners are expected to attend the Department’s spring graduation ceremony where they will receive a certificate and $50.00. Papers, which can be submitted by students or faculty, must be supplied in triplicate to a department secretary by February 28th. All copies should have two cover pages-one with the student’s name and one without the student’s name. Only papers written in the previous calendar year can be considered for the award.


Statement Concerning Students with Disabilities: NIU abides by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that mandates reasonable accommodations be provided for qualified students with disabilities. If a student has a disability and may require some type of instructional and/or examination accommodation, please contact the instructor early in the semester (preferably within the first two weeks) so that he can provide or facilitate in providing accommodations the student may need. If a student has not already done so, he/she will need to register with the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR), the designated office on campus to provide services and administer exams with accommodations for students with disabilities. The CAAR office is located on the 4th floor of the University Health Services building and its phone number is (815) 753-1303.


Department of Political Science Web Site: Undergraduates are strongly encouraged to consult the Department of Political Science web site on a regular basis. This up-to-date, central source of information will assist students in contacting faculty and staff, reviewing course requirements and syllabi, exploring graduate study, researching career options, tracking department events, and accessing important details related to undergraduate programs and activities. To reach the site, go to