Introduction to Political Philosophy

POLS 251, Section 2                         

Spring 2008

Course Meeting Place: DU 461

Course Meeting Time: MWF 11-11:50


Instructor: Chris Thuot                                                          

Office: DU 476

Office hours: M/W 12:30-2 and by appointment                                   

Email: (this is the best way to contact me)


Course Description


The purpose of this course is to introduce the student to the study of political philosophy.  In so doing, we will explore the political thought of some of the most important thinkers in the history of Western civilization.  In our attempt to grapple with texts written by Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, and Locke, we will be confronted with fundamental questions that are of crucial importance to the student of politics and have continually captured the attention of the most astute political observers.  Among the questions that will arise are the following: Is man by nature a political animal?  Does a political community have a natural end or purpose?  What is the proper relationship between civil and religious authority?  As we progress, we will also attempt to decipher the extent to which classical political philosophy differs from modern political philosophy.  In addition, throughout the semester we will reflect upon how our study of political philosophy can help us to better understand what constitutes a good life.


Required Texts:


*Because we will be reading certain passages in class, please purchase THE EDITIONS LISTED BELOW and BRING THE APPROPRIATE TEXT TO EACH CLASS. 


--Four Texts on Socrates: Plato’s Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito and Aristophanes’ Clouds.  Revised Edition.  Translated by Thomas G. West and Grace Starry West.  Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998.

--Aristotle.  The Politics.  Translated by Carnes Lord.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.

--Machiavelli.  The Prince.  Second Edition.  Translated by Harvey C. Mansfield.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

--Locke.  Second Treatise of Government.  Edited by C.B. Macpherson.  Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1980.

--Locke: A Letter Concerning Toleration: Humbly Submitted.  Edited by James Tully.  Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1983. 

Attendance Policy

Please be advised that there is an attendance policy for this course that will be strictly enforced.  Attendance will be taken at the beginning of each class.  Attendance at each class meeting is both expected and required. Students who are habitually absent can expect extreme difficulty in this course.  Being in attendance is defined as “being present when attendance is taken at the beginning of each class and remaining until class is dismissed.”  Students with extended absences due to illness should notify the instructor as promptly as possible during the absence and produce appropriate documentation indicating the nature and duration of the illness.  This documentation should be provided to the instructor at the first class upon returning.  Whether or not an absence is “excused” is entirely up to the instructor’s discretion and will be determined on a case by case basis.  Extended absences are highly discouraged, as they will adversely affect the student’s grade.  The student’s final grade will be reduced half a letter grade for each unexcused absence over 5

Classroom Etiquette

Please do not come late to class, as this is both discourteous and disruptive.  Students who come to class after attendance has been taken, or leave during class without permission from the instructor, will be considered absent.  If there are special circumstances regarding this matter, please discuss them with the instructor as early as possible.  Students who simply cannot make it to class on time, for whatever reason, are encouraged not to take this course.  In addition to coming to class on time, the instructor requests that students refrain from sleeping, text messaging, talking on cell phones, reading the newspaper, etc.  These things are discourteous and disruptive both to the instructor and to other classmates.  All cell phones, pagers, or any electronic devices which make noise are to be turned off before entering the classroom.  Any student whose phone rings during class will first be given a reminder of this policy. After this warning, if a phone rings again the student will be asked to leave the class.

Class Participation                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Proper participation in class is both required and rewarded.  As this is a course concerning the discussion of ideas, simple attendance without participating in discussion is insufficient.  The good student will not only be present and attentive in class, but will also actively participate in class discussion by answering questions about the assigned readings, raising questions, and volunteering thoughtful observations about the material.  Proper class participation also requires that the student behave with proper courtesy and regard for others’ comments.  Because most of our classes will involve reading and discussing passages from the assigned texts, the student should bring the appropriate readings to each class.  Frequent class discussion will foster a classroom environment that will be far more interesting and rewarding than one in which the instructor simply lectures every day.  The instructor will not give a formal grade for class participation, although he reserves the right to raise a student’s grade if he judges that student’s participation to have been exceptionally good.  Grades will not be lowered merely for lack of active class participation.




Final course grades are based upon the required written assignments, quizzes, and exams, as well as the regularity and quality of class participation, less any penalties due to extended unexcused absences.  I follow a standard 10-point format for determining grades (90-100=A, etc.).  Grades will be distributed as follows:


Quizzes: 20%

Short Essay #1: 25%

Short Essay #2: 25%

Final Exam: 30%




There will be periodic quizzes throughout the semester made up of “short answer” type questions.  The quizzes are intended to test to see how well the student has mastered the readings, after he or she has had a chance to read them, ask questions about them in class, reread them, and review lecture notes from class.  There will be a total of eight quizzes and I will drop the lowest score.  After I hand the quizzes back and we have reviewed them as a class, students should save them for the purpose of reviewing for the final.  Quiz dates will be announced 1 or 2 classes in advance so that students will have time to prepare.  NOTE: Only in the rarest of circumstances will a make up quiz be given.  Whether or not a student’s excuse warrants a make up quiz is solely at the discretion of the instructor, to be determined on a case-by-case basis.  Make up quizzes are a privilege, not a right.  Students wishing to make up a quiz must, at the very least, provide a written doctor’s excuse or other suitable documentation regarding why they were unable to be in class to take the quiz with their classmates.  When the instructor grants permission to take a make up quiz, you must take the quiz before the next class session, i.e. before the following Tuesday, otherwise you forfeit your chance to make up the quiz.




There will be two short essay assignments (900-1000 words) due at the beginning of class on the dates specified in the course schedule below.  I will hand out the essay topic two weeks in advance.  I will accept late papers up to three days (weekend days included) after the due date; however, late papers will be docked one letter grade for each day they are late.  NOTE: Any evidence of plagiarism will be treated in accordance with university and departmental policies and procedures.





Comprehensive Final Exam


The final exam will cover material from throughout the semester.  The exam will be administered during finals week at the time specified on the University Calendar.  PLEASE BRING BLUEBOOKS. 


Make-up examinations will be given only with adequate documentation that the absence was unavoidable.  The make-up exams will be significantly more difficult than the original.  It is in the student’s best interest to avoid make-up exams if at all possible.




The instructor will make every reasonable effort to be available to you.  If you cannot come during his scheduled office hours, please e-mail him to schedule a mutually convenient appointment. 


Some Suggestions For Success In This Class

1. Class Preparation--The best way to prepare for each class is to do the readings at least once (some require more than one reading) prior to the first day we begin each unit.  You will be much better able to participate in discussion and to grasp the class discussions if you have done so.


2. Good Note Taking--Good note taking is important to your success in this class.  Learn to listen carefully to the arguments made and write them down as best you can. Review your notes after class to see if they make sense.  By reviewing them soon after they are taken, sometimes you can remember things that will make sense out of what is confusing. Get together with other students periodically to go over one another’s notes.  If you got 50% of the lecture and your study partners got 50%, perhaps between you, you will have 75%.  What remains unclear can be discussed with the instructor.  Be sure to write down the questions asked by the instructor and those asked by other students.  If you write down their questions, as well as their answers, you will benefit.


3.  University Writing Center—I strongly encourage all students to visit the University Writing Center for assistance in writing the essays for this class.  I expect students to write clear, well-argued essays that that utilize proper rules of grammar.  The Writing Center will assist you in accomplishing these tasks and help you to improve your writing skills in general.   The Writing Center is located in Stevenson South, Tower B, Lower Level.  For an appointment, you can stop by or call 753-6636.


Statement Concerning Students with Disabilities


Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Those students with disabilities that may have some impact on their coursework and for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building. CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and instructors be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


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 


Tentative Course Schedule


*The following is meant to serve as a broad outline of the course.  The instructor reserves the right to, and likely will, make adjustments to the schedule to ensure that we have introduced ourselves to each author to a sufficient degree before we move on. 






Introduction cont’d:

--What is political philosophy?  Why study political philosophy?

--Introduction to Socrates and Plato’s Apology of Socrates

(NOTE: Although this introduction will primarily consist of a lecture, expect a question or two from this lecture on the first quiz).


Plato’s Apology of Socrates



Apology: 17a-24b (pp. 63-73)

NOTE: Hereafter, specific assignments will be made in class for the next class.






Apology, cont’d



Quiz #1-Note: Hereafter, quizzes will be announced in class one or two classes in advance.

Apology, cont’d




Apology, cont’d



Apology, cont’d


Plato’s Crito






Crito, cont’d


Aristotle’s Politics






Politics, cont’d



Politics, cont’d



Politics, cont’d



Politics, cont’d



Politics, cont’d

Essay Assignment #1 distributed (Due 2/29 at the beginning of class)



Politics, cont’d



Politics, cont’d



Politics, cont’d




Machiavelli’s Prince



The Prince



Prince, cont’d

Essay #1 Due (at the beginning of class)



Prince, cont’d



Essay Assignment #1 due

Prince cont’d



Prince, cont’d



No Class-Spring Break



Prince, cont’d



Prince, cont’d



Prince, cont’d



Prince, cont’d



Prince, cont’d


Locke’s Second Treatise



Second Treatise



Second Treatise, cont’d



Second Treatise, cont’d



Second Treatise, cont’d



Second Treatise, cont’d



Second Treatise, cont’d



Second Treatise, cont’d

Essay Assignment #2 distributed (Due 4/25 at the beginning of class)



Second Treatise, cont’d



Second Treatise, cont’d



Second Treatise, cont’d


Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration






Letter, cont’d



Letter, cont’d

Essay #2 due (at the beginning of class)


The Declaration of Independence






Catch up and review for Final



Reading Day—NO CLASS


Final Exam: Wednesday May 7, 10-11:50—DUSABLE 461 (where we normally meet).  Please bring two blank blue books to the Final.