Northern Illinois University

Department of Political Science


Political Science 251:                                        Mr. Reddinger

Introduction to Political Philosophy                    Office Hours: Mon. 3:30-5 &

Class: Tues&Thurs, 11-12:15                           Thurs. 12:30 – 1:30

Spring 2006                                           


Course Description:

            Together we will read a few of the classic books in the history of political philosophy.  These books will help us to think about some of the enduring questions of politics.  For example, what is political philosophy?  What is the relation of philosophy and politics?  Is there a nature common to all humans, and how does that relate to politics?  Is the belief in the existence of the “soul” relevant for politics?  Is force, rather than justice, all that matters in politics?  Is there a best form of government?  Must we obey all laws?  What are the benefits and dangers of capitalism?  What are the benefits and dangers of socialism?  What might be a middle ground between extreme capitalism and extreme socialism?  The chief goal of this class is to encourage students to want to replace political opinion with political knowledge, which is much facilitated by trying to answer political questions like those presented here.

            The structure of this course will help us to see how different thinkers in the history of political philosophy answered many of these questions.  Students shall be encouraged to realize their own political assumptions, which often have their origin in one or some of the famous books in the history of political philosophy.  We shall then try to begin to examine the reasonableness of the various political thinkers and political ideas in history.  Where appropriate, we shall try to determine what relevance these thinkers have for the United States of America.


Class Grading and Expectations:

20% - Class Participation, Behavior, and Attendance: Good class participation cannot (and should not) mean talking frequently in class discussion.  However, students that never participate should not expect to have a good participation grade.  Being able to answer the instructor’s questions in class will give you a good participation grade.  To be able to do this, students must diligently keep up with readings.  Asking your own questions about assigned readings equally show good participation and evidence of having read.  The nature of this class requires you to do the readings and to think about them.  Students must pay close attention to the content of class lectures and discussions in order to get the most out of this class.  Evidence of not paying attention while in class discussion will also harm your grade.

            Cell phones must be turned off at the beginning of class.  Having a cell phone go off during class will significantly reduce your participation grade.  Students will receive three unexcused absences for the semester.  Grades will be reduced by 5% of your total grade for the course for each additional absence.  Tardiness will not be accepted unless you explain prior to that class that you shall be late.  If you arrive at class late, you shall be counted as absent during that day. 

10% - Quizzes: If you fail to have a written excuse of absence on the day on which a pop quiz was given, you fail that quiz.  No exceptions.  6 quizzes will be given during the semester to ensure that students are keeping up with readings  These quizzes will test recall both of previous class discussions and basic points in the day’s assigned reading.  Only the highest 5 grades will count; the lowest of the 6 grades will be dropped.

20% - Exam 1: Prior to exam day, the instructor will distribute a list of practice essay questions so that students can study for this essay exam.  On exam day, the instructor will choose just a few of these questions that the student must answer.  Therefore, students are encouraged to prepare by developing answers to all practice questions.

25% - Short Essay: 900-1200 word essay due on April 4th.  The instructor will distribute suggested paper topics and general guidelines, though students are welcome to write on any topic of interest to them.  There shall be zero tolerance for any plagiarism (to be discussed further when general guidelines are distributed).    

25% - Exam 2: This final exam will use the same format as Exam 1.


Required Texts: For ease of class discussion, please purchase the following editions.

-Plato & Aristophanes, 4 Texts on Socrates.  Trans. Thomas G. West and Grace S. West.      Cornell University Press 1998.

-Niccolo 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.  Broadview Press.

-Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom.  University of Chicago Press.


Course Outline: The instructor reserves the right to reasonably alter this outline or any part of the syllabus at any time.

I. Introduction to Course: What is Political Philosophy?

            ~The Movement from Political Opinion to Political Knowledge

                        1/17: Introduction to the course.

                        1/19: Introduction to the history of political philosophy.

                        1/24: Plato’s Apology, 17a-35d

                        1/26: Plato’s Apology, 35e-42a, QUIZ 1


II. What are some of the chief claims of Classical Political Philosophy?

A.     We Have a Duty to Obey the Laws

            1/31: Plato’s Crito

B.     Man is by Nature a Political Animal

C.     There are Both Good and Bad Regimes

D.    There is a Best Regime at which We Ought to Aim

E.     The Government Ought to Make Citizens Virtuous

            2/2: Lecture on Aristotle’s Politics (no assigned reading)

            2/7: Lecture on Aristotle’s Politics (no assigned reading) QUIZ 2

F.      There is a Natural Law that Guides Our Conscience

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


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 Force

                        2/14: Machiavelli’s Prince, Epistle Dedicatory, Chapters I-IV

            2/16: Machiavelli’s Prince, Chapters V-IX

            2/21: Machiavelli’s Prince, Chapters X-XV

            2/23: Machiavelli’s Prince, Chapters XVI-XX, QUIZ 3

            2/28: Machiavelli’s Prince, Chapters XXI-XXVI


3/2: EXAM 1


B.     Most Humans are Not Capable of Consistently Acting with Virtue

            3/7: Lecture on Martin Luther and Jean Calvin (no readings)

            3/9: 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

            3/21: Locke’s 2nd Treatise of Government, Chapters I, II

            3/23: 2nd Treatise of Government, Chapters III, IV, V QUIZ 4

            3/28: 2nd Treatise of Government, Chapters VI, VI, VIII (Sections 95-

                                    100, 113-122)

            3/30: 2nd Treatise of Government, Chapters IX, X, XI, XII, XIII

            4/4: 2nd Treatise of Government, Chapters XIV, XV SHORT ESSAY                                        DUE

            4/6: 2nd Treatise of Government, Chapters XVI-XVIII, QUIZ 5

            4/11: 2nd Treatise of Government, Chapter XIX (Sections 211-230, 243)

            4/13: The Declaration of Independence


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                                            Individual Vice, but it Also Leads to Great Public Benefits

      4/18: Lecture on Early Proponents of the Free Market (no readings)

B.     The Marxist View: Capitalism alienates and Oppresses Workers

            4/20: The Communist Manifesto, pages 59-74

            4/25: The Communist Manifesto, pages 74-94

C.     The Libertarian View: Socialism leads to Despotism

      4/27: The Road to Serfdom, pages 1-62, QUIZ 6

      5/2: The Road to Serfdom, pages 63-147


Review Day: 5/4


FINAL EXAM: Tuesday, May 9th, 10-11:50



NIU abides by the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which mandates reasonable accommodations 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 help you obtain needed assistance. 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 for students with disabilities. The CAAR office is located on the 4th floor of the University Health Services building (753-1303). I look forward to working with you to enhance your academic success in this course.



Students 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 this site, go to


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 28.  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.  However, papers completed in the Spring semester are eligible for the following year’s competition even if the student has graduated.