Course description and goals

This course is designed to further your ability to think critically about fundamental issues in political thought. We will examine a wide variety of texts, from the works of Sophocles, Plato, and Aristotle to the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Karl Marx, and Vaclav Havel. As we explore these works, we will consider such themes as the nature of law and justice, the nature of human beings, freedom, the relationship between law and conscience, and appropriate forms of government.

In addition to gaining a working familiarity with key texts in the Western tradition of political philosophy, students will have the opportunity to develop the following skills throughout the semester:

  • asking good questions about the texts we read
  • writing clear, thoughtful essays exploring various aspects of our readings
  • locating and evaluating  sources to increase understanding of our texts
  • making use of appropriate tools (e.g. Google DocumentsZotero) for research, writing, and communication[1. Those interested in why I ask students to make use of digital tools in what is in many ways a very traditional course might wish to read this post from ProfHacker.]

This course fulfills Sophia LO1 outcomes for Philosophical Worldviews:

  • A Saint Mary’s student identifies and understands significant features of and developments in philosophical traditions concerning the nature of knowledge, the nature of reality, and the nature of the good.
  • A Saint Mary’s student analyzes and compares philosophical views.

Students fulfill these outcomes through close reading of, discussion of, and writing about the texts we read during the course of the semester. As we move through these texts, it will become clear that Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas (for example) have views about the nature of human beings and the limits of human knowledge that differ significantly from those of Machiavelli or Rousseau. Together we will explore the underlying assumptions that, at least in part, to these differing views.

  • A Saint Mary’s student thinks philosophically about her interactions in the world.
  • A Saint Mary’s student raises questions on philosophical issues pertaining to the development of her own worldview.

Students fulfill these outcomes by actively engaging with the texts we read together. They have the opportunity to do this in a formal way through writing assignments which encourage them to consider their own views on important issues in political philosophy in light of the readings.