POLS 251-1: INTRO TO POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY          INSTRUCTOR: NATHAN DINNEEN FALL 2009                                                                    OFFICE: DU 476

CLASS MEETS: MWF  12:00-12:50 p.m.                          OFFICE HRS: W 1:00-4:00 p.m.

ROOM: DU 246                                                                   and by appointment 





Philosophy, as understood by the ancients, is the pursuit of wisdom.  The main objective of this course, however, is not to understand what philosophy in general is but rather to come to an understanding of what political philosophy is.  In other words, 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 is thus concerned with human affairs. 


One could say that those who inquire into the nature of human affairs are political philosophers. We should not fool ourselves into believing, however, that just because political philosophers have given us an account of human affairs that they speak in perfect harmony with one another.  Rather, political philosophers differ over what human nature is or even what nature in general is.  Human activity, as a result, is understood in various ways due to different notions of human nature.  Do human beings have a purpose other than those that they have willed or created?  How do the notions of necessity, justice, choice, chance, and the divine influence our understanding of human action?  As we consider these notions, we will be compelled to inquire into the nature and possibility of political philosophy.


Philosophic inquiry into political things entails the ability to distinguish the good from the bad and the noble from the base, which is not always easy since some political events fall in between.  Political philosophy, then, proceeds by discussing the permanent questions of political life.  During the course of the semester, we will ask ourselves, “What is justice?”, “What is the relationship between the individual and ethics?”, and “What is the relationship between political theory and political practice?”  We will encounter these questions and many more as we examine three prominent quarrels that have occurred in the history of political philosophy:  the quarrel between philosophy and poetry, the quarrel between the ancients and the moderns, and the quarrel between biblical religion and philosophy.  The first and third quarrels as you can plainly see involve philosophy and its confrontations with points of view that are not essentially philosophic on the surface.  The second quarrel is between philosophers from antiquity and modernity, and it will be the quarrel that is central for us in this course.  The philosophers that I have chosen to shed light on these quarrels are Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Locke.




Plato, The Republic, trans. Allan Bloom, (Basic Books, 1991).

Aristotle, Politics, trans. Carnes Lord, (University of Chicago, 1984).

Machiavelli, The Prince, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield, (University of Chicago, 1998).

Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Edwin Curley, (Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1994).

Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett, (Cambridge University Press, 1988).


Please purchase the editions listed above.  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.  You “must” bring the text to class that we will be discussing that day.  Failure to comply with this requirement will hurt your participation grade.








Week 1

8/24  Introduction

8/26 Machiavelli, pp. 3-25

8/28 Machiavelli, pp. 25-47

Week 2

8/31 Machiavelli, pp. 48-60

9/2 Machiavelli, pp. 61-82

9/4 Machiavelli, pp. 83-95

Week 3

9/7 No Class;

9/9 Machiavelli, pp. 98-105 (Quiz #1 and Assign Paper Topic)

9/11 Machiavelli,

Review Day (optional)

Week 4

9/14 Plato, pp. 3-34


9/16 Plato, pp. 35-61

9/18 Plato, pp. 63-96

Week 5

9/21 Plato, pp. 97-125

(First Paper Due)

9/23 Plato, pp. 127-161

(Quiz #2);

9/25 Plato, pp. 163-192

Week 6

9/28 Plato, pp. 193-220

9/30 Plato, pp. 221-249

10/2 Plato, pp. 251-275

Week 7

10/5 Plato, pp. 277-303

10/7 Plato

(Quiz #3 and Assign Paper Topic)

10/9 Plato

Review Day (optional)

Week 8

10/12 Aristotle, pp. 35-44

10/14 Aristotle, pp. 44-54

10/16 Aristotle, pp. 55-67

Week 9

10/19 Aristotle, pp. 67-85

(Second Paper Due)

10/21 Aristotle, pp. 94-115

10/23 Aristotle pp. 118-139, 186-188

Week 10

10/26 Aristotle, pp. 147-181

10/28 Aristotle, pp.  219-223, 226-233 (Quiz #4)

10/30 Aristotle,

Review Day (optional)

Week 11

11/2 Hobbes, pp. 6-7, 28-29 [¶7], 41 [¶15-¶16], 96 [¶21], 108-109, 118-119 [¶1-¶2] 214 [¶14], 453-468

11/4 Hobbes, p. 1-11, 15-29

11/6 Hobbes, pp. 50-51, 57-74

Week 12

11/9 Hobbes, pp. 74-100

11/11 Hobbes, pp. 136-138, 172-175, 203-204, 210-19

(Quiz #5 and Assign Paper Topic)

11/13 Hobbes

Review Day (optional)

Week 13

11/16 Locke, pp. 267-285

11/18 Locke, pp. 285-302

11/21 Locke, pp. 303-323

(Third Paper Due)

Week 14

11/23 Locke, pp. 323-349

11/25 No School

11/27 No School

Week 15

11/30 Locke, pp. 350-384

 (Assign Paper Topic)

12/2 Locke, pp. 398-428 (Quiz #6)

12/4 Locke, Review Day (optional)

Week 16

12/7 Final (Quiz #7): Mandatory!!!

(Fourth Paper Due)







1.  Attendance: attendance at each class is both expected and required. Attendance will be taken during most classes after the first few days.  It will be taken at the beginning of each class.  In addition, students who leave class early will be counted absent, unless an early departure has been discussed with the instructor.  After four absences, whether excused or unexcused, each absence after it will lower a student’s final course grade by half a letter grade (that is, a “5” point deduction).  All school events or religious holidays that will cause someone to miss a class must be discussed with the instructor during the first week of school.  Should a student become gravely ill, then the instructor reserves the right to alter the attendance policy for the student. 


Review days are optional and will not count against you if you miss them.  They are, however, strongly encouraged if you are having a difficult time with the material or simply want to discuss the text more.    


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


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 discuss that section. Although one may not understand the author’s argument after preparing for class, 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, play with their cell phones, 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 lectures, while most will involve reading and discussing relevant passages in the texts.  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.


4.  Quizzes and Papers: Quizzes are given at the beginning of the class.  No make-up quizzes will be given.  The quizzes are true or false, short answers, fill in the blanks, or multiple choice.  They will cover the assigned readings and what has been discussed in class.


In your papers, you are to respond as thoughtfully as possible to the topic that the instructor will distribute in class.  The length of each paper is between 750-1000 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.  In other words, one’s paper must be written in an orderly and well-reasoned manner as well as argued from the text with proper citations.  A “B” means that you displayed most of these requirements, a “C” only some, a “D” perhaps one, and an “F” none. To achieve satisfactory 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.  When citing, however, it is best if you paraphrase the author’s thoughts, so that the instructor 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 will know that you have diligently read the text and will also be able to compare your paraphrase to the author’s own words.  It should be noted that you are not expected to reword common ideas (e.g., “state of nature” or “the best regime”).  In fact, it is best if you stick to the wording or phrasing of the author while making your argument.  These common ideas will become apparent to you as the class moves along.  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, Aristotle, Machiavelli, and Hobbes.  In fact, it is best if you do not, for this often gets students into trouble as regards plagiarism.  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 class notes, however, might help guide your analysis of the original text.       


Papers are due on the date specified. Late papers will be immediately reduced by a letter grade, and then a letter grade each week it is late. 


Plagiarism will result in you failing, at least, that assignment and, perhaps, the course.  In addition, a report documenting your plagiarism will be filed with the department and possibly, depending on the circumstances, with Judicial Affairs.  Lastly, if you are caught plagiarizing, then we will have to decide how to determine your final grade, since the normal procedure for calculating your final grade will no longer apply.


5.  Final Grade: 


a.     The final grade is based on 5 out of the 7 quizzes, 3 out of the 4 papers, the quality of class participation, and, to a certain degree, on attendance.  The lowest quiz grade and paper grade will be dropped.  The exception to this rule is that Quiz #7 is mandatory and what you receive on it will be factored into your quiz grade, even if it is your lowest quiz.  

b.     Final course grade is reduced half a letter grade for each absence over the 4th one.

c.     An “Incomplete” will only be given in extreme situations.  Students who request an “I” but are not passing the course at the time of the request will not be granted an “I”. 




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.


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.


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