Category Archives: Discussion questions

Questions for Schwartzberg article

  • How do you feel about the majority rule and unanimous vote? Which one is more fair to a large group of people as opposed to a smaller group of people?
  • Do you think that when majority rule is used that the minority are considering the general will or individual humility? Do you think that as a group gets smaller individual humility increases/decreases and vote based on the general will increases/decreases?

Questions for *On the Social Contract*, Book III

  • Rousseau argues that “the private will has much more influence on the acts of the government than those of the sovereign.” Do you agree with this statement? In other words, do our heads of state take into account the will of the people (i.e. the sovereign) when instituting laws? Or are they more concerned with private affairs?
  • Rousseau argues that “it is not good for the one who makes the law to execute them.” Why might this be the case?

Questions for *On the Social Contract*, Book II

  • In Book II of Rousseau’s On the Social Contract, he discusses the role of the general will and its effects on society. In Chapter 3, Rousseau presents the question of whether the general will can err. Rousseau later answers this question saying that “the populace is never corrupted, but it is often tricked, and only then does it appear to want what is bad.” From this idea is where I have developed the following questions. Do you believe that general will is always directed towards the good of society as whole? If so then, is the general will always right?
  • In Chapter 7 Rousseau discusses the qualities that a legislator should have . Do you believe that all legislators today have those essential qualities that Rousseau suggests?
  • Rousseau writes, “Whoever wills the end also wills the means, and these means are inseparable for some risks even some losses…Whoever wishes to preserve his life at the expense of others should also give it up for them when necessary.” What are your thoughts on Rousseau’s writings on the death penalty and the right of life and death in Chapter 5?
  • Rousseau argues, “in every body politic there is a maximum force that it cannot exceed, and which has often fallen short by increasing its size.” What reasons does he give to prove his maxim correct? Are there any nation states in history or now which have exceeded their maximum?

Questions for *On the Social Contract,* Book I

  • In Book 1 of On the Social Contract, Rousseau discusses what individuals gain from submitting themselves to a sovereign and abiding by the social contract. In Chapter 8 he writes that “although in this state he deprives himself of several of the advantages belonging to him in the state of nature, he regains great ones” (Rousseau, 889). Some of these include exercising and developing one’s faculties, broadening ideas, and elevating one’s soul. He goes as far as to say that when one engages in the social contract and the sovereign it “transformed him from a stupid, limited animal into an intelligent being and a man.” Do you agree with Rousseau and his ideas on what a person can gain from playing a part in the sovereign? Have you been privy to any of these positive changes suggested by Rousseau as a result of your participation in your political community?
  • In Book 9, Rousseau writes that “each private individual’s right to his very own store is always subordinate to the community’s right to all, without which there could be neither solidarity in the social fabric nor real force in the exercise of sovereignty” (890). Do you agree with Rousseau? Do you think this ideology could successfully exist in American society?

Questions for Anton article

  • Anton mentions that chapters 3-5 lay out Machiavelli’s central argument throughout The Prince. How would you summarize this argument made subtly throughout the three chapters?
  • After reading Anton’s article, do you think your understanding of the The Prince would change if chapters 3-5 were omitted?
  • If a Christian, as Machiavelli says, is weak and relay on outside sources, does that mean that they would be unable to conquer and take control of a place successfully?
  • “With the right strategy, the right kind of men, who learn from Christianity’s strengths and weaknesses, can replace Christianity.” Following what Machiavelli says, would this still be possible in modern times?

Questions for the *Prince,* Chs. 12-19

  • In chapter 15, Machiavelli talks about how some virtuous behaviors will lead to a ruler’s downfall and some wicked ways of behaving will lead to welfare and peace of mind. What do you think about this? is it right to act in such a way in order to keep rule?
    In chapter 18, Machiavelli states that “people judge by outcomes” (pg. 539). Do you think this is true or is it also important to pay close attention to a leader’s true character?
  • While it is ideal to be both loved and feared, Machiavelli states that since it is difficult to achieve that perfect mix, it is better to be feared. Do you think this is true? Is it possible to fear without hate?
    In what ways can a ruler inspire love?
  • According to Machiavelli, what are qualities that can bring a prince praise or blame? Machiavelli discusses that a prince cannot have all the qualities considered to be good, so what should a prince be “wise enough” to understand in order to be a good/popular ruler?
  • What are the two ways to fight according to Machiavelli and what does a prince need to know in order to become a good fighter? Machiavelli says a good fighter needs to embody lions and foxes. Why must a prince emulate both of these “beasts” in order to be a good fighter?

Questions for *The Prince,* Chs. 5-14

  • What do you think of Machiavelli’s third option for taking over territory that is accustomed to its own laws and freedom? Do you think this option would ever work in today’s society for someone taking over the US or another democracy?
  • Do you agree that if one comes to control a state, that they should commit their wicked crimes right away instead of over time? Machiavelli argues if one spreads out their wicked acts their subjects won’t trust them, but would you trust a ruler that was wicked either way?

Questions for Winthrop article

  • Delba Winthrop writes, “Assertions of political sovereignty notwithstanding, man may be no more nor less in nature than a tool, who by means of his work, informs the whole or gives his life…For Aristotle the status of man in nature depends not on mere assertion, but on the natural status of tools” (2008, 192-193). What do you think of this statement? Is man no more than a tool of whatever he is most skilled at doing?
  • In the article Winthrop (2008, 193) quotes Aristotle from Book I when he writes, “To some despotism is against nature, for one is slave and another is free by law, and by nature there is no difference because of which it is not at all just, for it is by force” (1253b18-23). Do you agree with this? Is freedom unnatural, no different from slavery, making it equally as unjust?