Main content start
The History of Ancient Greek Philosophy (Philosophy 100, Classics 40)
We shall cover the major developments in Greek philosophical thought, focusing on Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenistic schools (the Epicureans, the Stoics, and the Skeptics). Topics include epistemology, metaphysics, psychology, ethics and political theory.
Justice (POLSCI 103)
Justice, as we use the term in this class, is a question about social cooperation. People can produce much, much more cooperatively than the sum of what they could produce as individuals, and these gains from cooperation are what makes civilization possible. But on what terms should we cooperate? How should we divide, as the philosopher John Rawls puts it, “the benefits and burdens of social cooperation”? Working primarily within the Anglo-American philosophical tradition, we’ll discuss different answers to this big question as a way to bring together some of the most prominent debates in modern political philosophy. We’ll study theories including utilitarianism, libertarianism, classical liberalism, and egalitarian liberalism, and we’ll take on complex current issues of justice as well. This class is meant to be an accessible entry point to political philosophy. No experience with political science or philosophy is required or assumed, and we will spend time on the strategy of philosophy as well: understanding how our authors make their arguments to better respond to them and make our own.
Chinese Political Thought: 1895-2021 (POLSCI 235)
Everybody is talking about China now. The competition between China and the Western world is not only about economic growth, technological advancement, and military strength. What is ultimately at stake is a key theoretical question: Can China's political traditions and current practices (such as Confucianism and one-party meritocracy) offer a legitimate and desirable alternative to the ideal of liberal democracy? This course aims to approach this question through the lens of intellectual history and political theory. We will read important political writings in China between 1895 (the year marking the end of the First Sino-Japanese War) to our own time. We shall pay attention to the following questions: How do modern Chinese thinkers conceive of China’s place in the world? How do they use Western political ideas to transform China? How do they creatively transform Chinese traditions (especially Confucianism) to meet the challenge of modernity? Finally, how do Chinese thinkers advance political ideals that attempt to fix the problems in the West (such as imperialism, capitalism, and populism)? Please read the syllabus here.
Ethics for Activists (POLSCI 134)
Activists devote sustained effort and attention toward achieving particular goals of social and political change. Do we have an ethical obligation to be activists? And how should those who do choose to be activists (for whatever reason) understand the ethics of that role? Questions discussed in this course may include: When is civil disobedience appropriate, and what does it entail? Should activists feel constrained by obligations of fairness, honesty, or civility toward those with whom we disagree? Are there special ethical considerations in activism on behalf of those who cannot advocate for themselves? What is solidarity and what does it require of us? Students in this course will develop skills in analyzing, evaluating, and constructing logical arguments about ethical concerns related to activism, but class discussions will also address the potential limitations of logical argument in ethical and political reasoning.
Political Thought in Modern Asia (POLSCI 235N)
The study of political theory in the United States has been accused of being Western-centric: We tend to focus on intellectual traditions from Plato to NATO, while ignoring the vast world of non-Western societies and the ways they think about politics and public life. This course aims to fill this gap by exploring three Asian traditions and their perspectives on politics: Confucianism, Hinduism, and Islam. We will focus on the modern period (19th-21st centuries) and the ways intellectuals in these societies respond to the challenge of modernity and Western superiority. Special attention is given to how these intellectuals conceive of the relationship between modernity and their respective traditions: Are they compatible or mutually exclusive? In which ways do intellectuals interpret these traditions so as to render them (in)compatible with modernity? We will read academic articles written by Anglophone scholars as well as original texts written by non-Western thinkers. Please read the syllabus here.
Wealth of Nations (POLSCI Number TBA)
Why are there economic disparities across countries? Why did some countries grow steadily over the past 200 years while many others did not? What have been the consequences for the citizens of those countries? What has been the role of geography, culture, and institutions in the development process? What are the moral dilemmas behind this development process? These are some of the questions we will discuss in this course. Following a historical and cross-cultural perspective, we will study the origins of economic development and the path that led to the configuration of the modern global economy.
Origins of Political Thought: Homer to Aristotle (POLSCI 230A)
This course surveys the origins and development of political thought in ancient Greece through the work of poets, political philosophers, and historians. Some of the texts we will read are self-consciously philosophical in the contemporary sense of the term (Plato, Aristotle). Others are not (e.g. Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Thucydides, Demosthenes). “Philosophy” was a contested term in the Greek world, and the boundaries between philosophy and other forms of writing that approached politics in evaluative and normative terms were not as clearly drawn in classical antiquity as in modernity. This allows us to consider the political thought exemplified in epic, lyric, tragic, and comic poetry, along with historiography, polemical tracts, and biography.
Citizenship in the 21st Century (COLLEGE 102)
Citizenship is not just what passport you hold or where you were born. Citizenship also means equal membership in a self-governing political community. We will explore some of the many debates about this ideal: Who is (or ought to be) included in citizenship? Who gets to decide? What responsibilities come with citizenship? Is citizenship analogous to being a friend, a family member, a business partner? How have people excluded from citizenship fought for, and sometimes won, inclusion? These debates have a long history, featuring in some of the earliest recorded philosophy and literature but also animating current political debates in the United States and elsewhere.
The Political Theory of Progress, Reconcidered (POLSCI 234S)
This course will consider the origins and fate of Enlightenment theories of political progress. We will begin with the classic accounts of progress in Kant, Hegel, and Marx, before turning to conservative critics of progress (Burke, de Maistre), and non-conservative challenges to the idea of progress (Weber, Schmitt, Adorno, Arendt), before concluding with contemporary controversies around the idea of progress as it pertains to technology, the environment, and economic inequality.
Humanities Core: Great Books, Big Ideas -- Europe, Moderna (HUMCORE 13, FRENCH 13, HISTORY 239C, PHIL 13)
Keith Baker and Dan Edelstein
What is a good life? How should society be organized? Who belongs? How should honor, love, sin, and similar abstractions govern our actions? What duty do we owe to the past and future? This course examines these questions in the modern period, from the rise of revolutionary ideas to the experiences of totalitarianism and decolonization in the twentieth century. Authors include Locke, Mary Shelley, Marx, Nietzsche, Primo Levi, and Frantz Fanon.
Varieties of Conservatism in America (POLSCI 237)
This seminar explores the conservative movement in America and its principal strands. It begins with an introduction to the modern tradition of freedom and America's founding principles since the understanding of conservatism - in the United States as elsewhere - requires some acquaintance with that which conservatives seek to conserve. The introduction includes study of Marx's classic critique of liberal democracy because the understanding of conservativism also requires an appreciation of the leading alternative. The seminar then turns to developments in the immediate aftermath of World War II, when a self-consciously conservative movement in the United States first emerged as a national force and concludes with an examination of the leading debates among conservatives today. The seminar meets once a week. It revolves around careful reading of assigned texts, robust discussion of the materials, and analysis from a variety of perspectives. Students will be required to submit one-page ungraded reflections in advance of each class, and a substantial final paper at the conclusion of the course.
Democratic Theory (POLSCI 234N)
Most people agree that democracy is a good thing, but do we agree on what democracy is? This course will examine the concept of democracy in political philosophy. We will address the following questions: What reason(s), if any, do we have for valuing democracy? What does it mean to treat people as political equals? When does a group of individuals constitute "a people," and how can a people make genuinely collective decisions? Can democracy really be compatible with social inequality? With an entrenched constitution? With representation? By the end of the course, students should be able to recognize, analyze, and evaluate philosophical arguments in defense of democracy and to understand how differing accounts of the value of democracy lead to different conclusions about the kinds of institutions and social conditions that democracy requires. Ultimately, students should be able to form their own judgments about the kinds of political institutions we ought to have, and to persuasively support these judgments with analytically rigorous ethical argument.
Ancient Greek Rationality, Public and Private (POLSCI 238R)
Josiah Ober and Chris Bobonich
In this seminar, we'll consider ancient Greek views about and theories of practical rationality and compare and contrast them with some modern theories, especially theories of instrumental rationality. We'll consider both philosophic authors, especially Plato and Aristotle, but also Aeschylus, Herodotus, Solon, and Thucydides.
Societal Collapse (POLSCI Number TBA)
Sustained economic growth is an anomaly in human history. Moreover, in the very long term, sustained economic decline is common. Following a historical and cross-cultural perspective, we will study the causes of economic decline, the social and political consequences of that decline, and the path that led to the collapse of some of the most prosperous societies in human history. Among the episodes we will cover are the Late Bronze Age collapse in the Eastern Mediterranean, the fall of the Western Roman Empire, and the Classic Maya collapse. We will compare these ancient episodes with recent cases of socioeconomic decline, including the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the downfall of Venezuela under Chavismo. We will use the past to reflect on the fundamentals of harmony and prosperity in our society and the challenges that they will face in the future.