Northern Illinois University

                                          Department of Political Science

                                                         Fall 2008


POLS 251: Introduction to Political Philosophy                          Instructor: Halima Khan

Section 2: TTH 9:30-10:45 a.m.     DU 246                                       E-mail      :

Office Hours: 10:45 am – 12:15 p.m.                                                 Office       : DU 476

                                                                                                            Phone        : (815) 753-1818


Course Objectives:

            The purpose of this course is to examine the history and evolution of political philosophy from its Greek roots to the modern day.   To this end, we will be reading a selection of classic texts ranging from Plato, Machiavelli, Locke, to Marx, and Hayek.  These readings will help us in answering some enduring questions of politics.  For example, what is political philosophy?   What is the proper relationship between a government and its citizens?  How much control ought the government to have over individual lives?  Is there a common nature to all humans, and how does that relate to politics?  Is force, rather than justice, all that matters to politics?   Must we obey all laws? Are rulers sometimes justified in acting cruelly?  How do we define the “good life” and how does our definition impact our political views?  What is the relationship between the philosopher and the city?  What is the highest good for humans? For governments?  What is the best regime?  Are there any limits on our ability to create the best regime? What role does nature play in political life? What effect does philosophy have on political life?  What does it mean to live a virtuous life? What are the benefits and dangers of capitalism? Of socialism? What might the middle ground be between extreme capitalism and extreme socialism?  With these and other questions informing our discussion, this course will help students apply critical thinking skills to go beyond the “what is” and ask the more important “why?”

            The principal goal of this class is to encourage students to replace political opinion with political knowledge.  The structure of this course will facilitate us in seeing and understanding how different thinkers in the history of the discipline of political philosophy answered questions dealing with freedom, equality, justice, laws, and authority.  By the end of the semester, students should be able to identify and explain the positions of the philosophers covered in class and note similarities and differences between these thinkers’ ideas.


Required Texts:

Plato, 4Texts on Socrates, Revised Ed. Trans. Thomas G. West and Grace S. West

            (Cornell University Press, 1998)

 Machiavelli, The Prince, Trans. Leo Paul S. de Alvarez.  (Waveland Press, 1989)

John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, Ed. Richard Cox (Harlan Davidson, 1982)

Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto, Ed. And Trans. L.M. Findlay (Broadview Press, 2004)

Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, Ed. Bruce Caldwell (University of Chicago Press, 2007)



Scoring Weights                                                                  Scoring Scale

Exam 1: 100 points                                                              A = 90% and above (540-600)

Final Exam: 100 points                                                        B = 80-89% (480-539)

4 Quizzes: 100 points (25 pts each)                                     C = 70-79% (420-479)

Mid-term paper: 200 points                                                  D = 60-69% (360-419)

Attendance: 50 points                                                           F = below 59% (below 359)

Participation: 50 points                                                         No incompletes allowed


Course Requirements:

Exams: Prior to exam days, the instructor will distribute a list of practice essay questions to enable students to study for the exam.  The questions on the exams will be from the list and you will be expected to answer them—no choice will be given.  Hence, it is in the students’ best interest to prepare answers to all practice questions.


Quizzes: A total of FOUR quizzes will be given during the semester.  The principal aim of these quizzes is to ensure that students are keeping up with the assigned readings. 


Mid-term paper: A 4-5 page essay will be due on 11/4at the start of class.  For the paper, the student is expected to critique and analyze one idea or argument from one of the texts.  Given the length of the paper, it is advisable to focus on one idea or argument and not the whole text.  The instructor will distribute possible paper topics and general guidelines, although students are welcome to write on any topic that is pertinent to the material of the course. Please discuss topics with the instructor before you begin work on the paper.  Attention to both grammar, citations (MLA, APA or Chicago), and organization is necessary. A well-written paper is among the first steps to success and needless to say, plagiarism has no place in this class.  It is strongly recommended that students utilize the services of the University Writing Center, located at Stevenson Towers South, Lower Level. You can make an appointment by calling (815) 753-6636.


Attendance: Attendance is mandatory and will be taken promptly at the start of each class.  All students are expected to be present and seated before attendance is taken.  Late-comers will not be allowed into class unless prior permission has been taken.  It is the duty of the student to inform the instructor before class in the event an absence is necessitated.  More than two unexcused absences will translate into the final grade being lowered by half a grade.  Sleeping during class will be counted as an absence. 

Class Participation:  It is crucial that students actively participate in class discussions.  Each student is capable of bringing a unique perspective to the subject at hand and in so doing, adds to the enrichment of all in the classroom.  It is for this reason that class participation will be graded.  I am aware that some of you are more hesitant to speak than others and would rather be active listeners.  However, I strongly encourage you to overcome these inhibitions and meet me for guidance.  It was not too long ago that I was sitting where you are now and have felt the same fears.  I know that these fears can be dealt with and participating will not only help in combating your hesitation but will also add to your personal enhancement.  I personally believe that teaching is one of the best ways of learning.  Not only does an educator impart knowledge and skills, he or she also learns from the students.  Let’s make this an enjoyable course for all, try to learn, and have fun. J 



Course Policies:

1. Papers.  The paper is due on the date specified.  Late papers will be accepted up to 3 days after the due date.  However, you should expect them to be docked one letter grade for each day they are late.

2. Make-up quizzes/exams.  A make-up quiz or exam will be given only with adequate documentation that the absence was unavoidable.  The make-up exams are sufficiently more difficult than the original that prudent people will avoid them where possible.

3. Appointments.  The instructor will make every reasonable effort to be available to you.  If you cannot come during scheduled office hours, please call to schedule a mutually convenient appointment.  I strongly encourage the use of email for questions, concerns, absences, etc. 

4. General Advice:   This is not a particularly “hard” course.  Keeping up with the readings, turning in assignments on time, attending class, taking notes, and participating will assure the student of a good grade. It is recommended that students read the chapter before coming to class.  Do not wait until the last week to cram everything in.  The scoring weights are provided to help you keep track of your grades as they are turned in.  Also, as most other instructors, I do not purport to have all the answers.  I will do my best to answer your questions and I strongly recommend that you challenge the instructor so that everyone may benefit.  Please feel free to ask questions because there are no such things as “dumb” questions.  The best way to learn is by constantly questioning what we are taught and told.  

5. Classroom Decorum:  Usage of cell-phones and other methods of communication with the outside world are strictly prohibited in the classroom.  Please make sure these instruments are turned off and stored away upon entering the room.  It is strongly advised that you take care of all personal business before the start of the class.  Once you are in the classroom, you are expected to remain in your seat until the end of the class period and be respectful of others present.  Violations of these policies will adversely affect your grade.  Any exceptions will have to be explicitly negotiated, in advance, with the instructor.

6. Extra Credit:  Without exception, extra credit is not an option.  There are plenty of opportunities to improve your grade with the course requirements and if you find you are having trouble, please seek help early in the semester.  Efforts will be made to give extra help but it is generally assumed that you will be responsible for the work in accordance with the stated deadlines.

7. Disability: NIU abides by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which mandates reasonable accommodations be provided for qualified students with disabilities. If you have a disability and may require some type of instructional and/or examination accommodation, please contact me early in the semester so that I can provide or facilitate in providing accommodations you may need. If you have not already done so, you 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 (815-753-1303). I look forward to talking with you soon to learn how I may be helpful in enhancing your academic success in this course.
8. Academic Dishonesty: Plagiarism, cheating, and other novel forms of academic dishonesty will be dealt with seriously.  The instructor reserves the right to fail the student for the rest of the course in the event these offenses are detected.  Please do not purchase papers online or have others do the writing for you.  It is not at all difficult to detect writing that does not belong to you. 

9. Withdrawal Policy:  If you choose to stop attending class you, the student, are responsible for withdrawing from the course.  The instructor will not do so for you.  If you stop attending and have not withdrawn, a failing grade will be entered. 

10. 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

11. Disclaimer:  The instructor reserves the right to change the schedule. Every effort will be made to follow the syllabus.  However, certain topics may demand a longer discussion which will necessitate in modifications to the syllabus.  In such an event, the instructor will provide ample notice about the changes instituted.  However, please read the assigned chapters for the week even if the chapter for the previous is carried over.

Reading, Quizzes, Exam and Assignment Schedule 

I. Introduction to Course: What is Political Philosophy?

            The movement from political opinion to political knowledge

                   8/26: Introduction to the course

                   8/28: Introduction to the history of political philosophy

                   9/2  : Plato’s Apology, 17a-35d

                   9/4  : Plato’s Apology, 35e-42a 


II. What are some of the chief claims of classical political philosophy?  

            A. We have a duty to obey the laws?

                   9/9: Plato’s Crito  QUIZ 1

            B. Man is by nature a political animal

            C. There are both good and bad regimes

            D. There is a best regime to which we ought to aim

            E. The government ought to make citizens virtuous

                  9/11: Lecture on Aristotle’s Politics (no assigned reading)

                  9/16: Lecture on Aristotle’s Politics continued   

            F. There is a natural law that guides our conscience

                   9/18: Lecture on Thomas Aquinas (no assigned reading) QUIZ 2


III. What are some of the chief claims of modern political philosophy?

            A. Politics is not about virtue or the best regime, but only about who has the greater


                 9/23: Machiavelli’s The Prince, Epistle Dedicatory, Chapters I-IV

                 9/25: Chapters V-IX

                 9/30: Chapters X-XV

                10/2 : Chapters XVI-XX 

                10/7: Chapters XXI-XXVI QUIZ 3


            B. Most humans are not capable of consistently acting with virtue

                 10/9: Lecture on Martin Luther and Jean Calvin (no assigned readings)


10/14 EXAM 1


                 10/16: Brief selections from Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws

                        Readings to be handed out by instructor


            C. Humans are by nature apolitical and so must consent to government

                   10/21: Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, Chapters I-II

                   10/23: Chapters III-V   QUIZ 4

                   10/28: Chapters VI-VIII (Sections 95-100, 113-122)

                   10/30: Chapters IX-XIII

                   11/4   : Chapters IV-V  

                   11/6   : Chapters XVI-XVIII MID-TERMS PAPER DUE

                   11/11: Chapter XIX (Sections 211-230, 243)

                   11/13: The Declaration of Independence (copy available online)


IV. What are some of the major views on the Capitalism/Socialism debate?

            A. Early proponents of the Free Market: The Free Market might lead to individual

                        vice, but it also leads to great public benefits

                   11/18: Lecture on early proponents of the Free Market (no readings)

            B. The Marxist View: Capitalism alienates and oppresses workers               

                   11/20: The Communist Manifesto, pp 59-74

                   11/25: pp.75-94

            C. The Libertarian View: Socialism leads to Despotism

                   12/2: The Road to Serfdom, pp. 57-99

                   12/4: pp.100-156


Final Exam: Thursday, December 11, 10:00-11:50 a.m.







9/9: Quiz 1

9/18: Quiz 2

10/7: Quiz 3

10/14: EXAM 1

10/23: Quiz 4


12/11: FINAL EXAM 10 – 11:50 a.m.