Department of Government
Government 271: Classical Political Philosophy
MW 1 - 2:15 pm
259 Miller Library
Political philosophy is traditionally said to have begun with Socrates' question: How should one live? By setting itself up as the proper judge of opinions, philosophy presents itself as a challenge to the political community, whose laws and customs would otherwise be the authoritative guide of human action. The course begins with a brief look at the traditional ideals of the Greek world as these are articulated by Homer and then turns to explore the criticisms and transformations of these ideals articulated by Socrates, his students, and contemporaries; the course concludes with a brief glance at the political achievements of the Roman Republic through works by Polybius and Cicero.
The readings are organized in a manner that attempts to be both roughly chronological and roughly thematic; materials from Aristotle's Politics have been divided up and assigned as appropriate to complement the examination of regimes in the other major works. Thucydides and the readings relating to the trial of Socrates give us a look at Athenian democracy; Xenophon's Education of Cyrus enables us to explore the ancient ideals of monarchy and polity--and to consider the differences between legitimate monarchies and tyranny. Plato's Republic and Laws (from which we will be reading substantial selections) offer a very different account of monarchy and aristocracy, while also developing the classic critique of tyranny.
Though the political and moral ideals of Greeks and Romans may seem to us remarkable and strange, we must always bear in mind (as did Rousseau, who learned so much from them) that the men of classical antiquity "were human, just as we are." Their problems are still our problems: we, too, must decide how to live; we, too, must shape our own political world; we, too, are confident that we know the answers and are impatient with the questions philosophy insistently poses. Precisely because we are so confident -- or, perhaps, even complacent -- we must take all the more seriously the challenge classical thought poses to the orthodoxies of modernity.
Course Aims and Methods
Classes will be conducted as a mixture of lecture and discussion. Because this is an introductory course, some class periods will include a substantial lecture component. However, the course aims not only to introduce students to some of the major claims and arguments of classical political philosophy but also to enable students to become critical, close readers of texts in classical political philosophy. It is therefore essential that students read the assigned material carefully before coming to class and arrive prepared to discuss what they have read.
Books Recommended for Purchase
Aristophanes, Assembly of Women. Translated by Robert Mayhew. Prometheus Books.
Aristotle, Politics. Translated by Carnes Lord. University of Chicago Press.
Cicero, Selected Political Speeches. Translated by Michael Grant. Penguin Books.
Plato and Aristophanes, Four Texts on Socrates. Translated by Thomas G. West and Grace Starry West. Cornell University Press.
Plato, Laws. Translated by Thomas Pangle. Chicago.
Plato, Republic. Translated by Allan Bloom. Basic Books.
Polybius, The Rise of the Roman Empire. Translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert. Penguin Books.
Thucydides, The Landmark Thucydides : A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War. Edited by Robert B. Strassler. Touchstone Books
Xenophon, The Education of Cyrus. Translated by Wayne Ambler. Cornell University Press.
Course Requirements and Grading
Grades will be determined according to one of the following formulas:
• Three short papers (5-6 pages each) papers: 60% Everyone must write the paper due on March 4 and at least two other papers (the others are due in my office on April 8, April 29, and May 10). For those who write all four papers (and everyone is encouraged to do this); only the three highest grades will be counted.
• Comprehensive final examination: 25%
• Class participation: 15%
Long paper option:
• One short paper (5-6 pages): 15%. Due on March 4.
• One long paper (20-25 pages): 60%. Due on May 10.
• Class participation: 25%
Satisfactory performance on the long paper will satisfy the Government department writing requirement. Students interested in taking the long paper option must consult with the instructor and get the instructor's permission in writing before the spring recess. Normally students must get a grade of B or better on the short paper in order to qualify to take the long paper option.
N.B. Failure to complete any major component of the course (e.g., failing to submit any of the required papers, persistent absenteeism) entails failing the course as a wholeÑregardless of performance on the completed components.
Schedule of Readings
I. Introduction: The World of Homer
Feb 2 (W): The World of Homer
Homer, Iliad and Odyssey (entire) -- recommended
II. Athenian Democracy and Empire
Feb 7 (M): Thucydides I -- Athenian Democracy under Pericles
Thucydides, History, 1.1-1.23, 1.118-1.146, 2.1-2.66 (Landmark Thucydides, 3-16, 65-85, 89-128)
Feb 9 (W): Thucydides II -- Athenian Democracy after Pericles
Thucydides, History, 3.1-3.68 (Landmark Thucydides, 159-193)
Feb 14 (M): Aristotle on Democracy
Aristotle, Politics, 3.6-3.11; 4.4-6; 5.8-9; 6.1-6
Feb 16 (W): Aristotle on Revolution
Aristotle, Politics, 5.1-9
Feb 21 (M): Thucydides III -- War and Human Nature
Thucydides, History, 3.69-3.85, 4.1-4.48, 5.14-5.26, 5.84-5.116 (Landmark Thucydides, 194-201, 223-250, 309-317, 350-357)
Feb 23 (W): Thucydides IV -- The Failure of Athenian Democracy
Thucydides, History, 6.8-6.72, 6.88-93, 7.42-7.87, Epilogue (Landmark Thucydides, 366-402, 410-416, 451-478, 549-554)
III. Philosophy and the City
Feb 28 (M): Socrates I -- Philosophy and the City
Plato, Apology of Socrates (entire)
Mar 2 (W): Socrates II -- What the City Thinks of Philosophy
Aristophanes, Clouds (entire)
Mar 4 (F): Paper One (Thucydides) due in Miller 259 at 4 pm
Mar 7 (M): Socrates III -- Socrates' Counter-Proposal and Conclusion
Plato, Apology of Socrates (entire--again)
IV. Republic, Empire, and the Limits of the Political Life
Mar 9 (W): Xenophon I -- The Persian Republic and the Median Empire
Xenophon, Cyropaedia I-II
Mar 14 (M): Aristotle on Monarchy and Polity
Aristotle, Politics, 3.10-18; 4.7-10; 5.6-11
Mar 16 (W): Xenophon II -- Kingship and War
Xenophon, Cyropaedia III-IV
Mar 21 (M): No Class Session -- spring recess
Mar 23 (W): No Class Session -- spring recess
Mar 28 (M): Xenophon III -- Allies, Friends, and Enemies
Xenophon, Cyropaedia V-VI
Mar 30 (W): Xenophon IV -- The Exemplary Life of Cyrus
Xenophon, Cyropaedia VII-VIII
V. Tyrants or Philosopher-Kings
Apr 4 (M): Plato I -- From the City of Utmost Necessity to the City as Armed Camp
Plato, Republic II-III
Apr 6 (W): Plato II -- From the City as Armed Camp to the Beautiful City
Plato, Republic IV-V
Apr 8 (F): Paper Two (Xenophon) due in Miller 259 at 4 pm
Apr 11 (M): A Comic view of the Beautiful City
Aristophanes, Assembly of Women (entire)
Apr 13 (W): Plato III -- Five Regimes and Five Souls
Plato, Republic VIII-IX
Apr 18 (M): Plato IV -- From Theory to Practice
Plato, Laws V-VI, XII
Apr 20 (W): Aristotle's Critique of Plato
Aristotle, Politics, 2.1-6; 5.12
VI. Rome: From Imperial Republic to Monarchical Empire
Apr 25 (M): The Roman Constitution
Polybius, History VI
Apr 27 (W): Politics in the Late Republic
Apr 29 (F): Paper Three (Plato) due in Miller 259 at 4 pm
May 2 (M): The End of the Roman Republic
May 4 (W): From antiquity to modernity
May 10 (T): Paper Four (Rome) due in Miller 259 at 4 pm