programme

Western Political Philosophy

Home/ Western Political Philosophy
Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation ElectiveSLG1LP1024

Semester and Year Offered: 2nd Semester (Winter semester 2019)

Course Coordinator and Team: Dr. Javed Iqbal Wani

Email of course coordinator: javed@aud.ac.in

Pre-requisites: None

Aim:

The course is an introduction to the development of Western political philosophy from Plato to Marx. It is concerned with an examination of some of the most important ideas and theories concerning the relationship between humans, state and society in the political thought of the Ancient Greeks, Machiavelli and then will move towards discussing the social contractarians and conclude with discussions on Marx. The course is designed to specifically focus on the form and nature of political community. As a result, political obligation plays an important role towards the formation of such a community. This course will attempt to discuss how there is a convergence of law and politics though the question of political obligation. The course is text based. It is expected that students will become familiar with the key texts of political thought. Topics covered will be selected from the following: the nature of political society and of political activity; the relationship between moral, religious and political ideas; the nature of the state, government and authority; justice, liberty and equality; human nature and politics; law and politics; political argument and political deliberation.

Course Outcomes:

The student should be able to demonstrate;

  • Demonstrate an understanding some of the most important ideas and theories concerning the relationship between humans, state and society in the political thought of the Ancient Greeks, Machiavelli, the social contractarians and Karl Marx.
  • Demonstrate a sense of distinction in the ideas of these philosophers particularly pertaining to the form and idea of political community.
  • Demonstrate a familiarity and comprehension of the key texts, their context and implications.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

The Course will comprise of four modules:

Module 1- Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle: political community as organic

This first module deals with the origins of Western thinking on the polis, which is the Greek word for city-state. The module focusses on Ancient Greece as the site of the birth of political thought and some of the earliest reflections on the nature of political community primarily through the writings of Plato and Aristotle. Plato's view of political and social life holds that the city-state should be governed by a ruler with philosophical training capable of comprehending the true nature of reality, justice, and wisdom, and where one's place in society is determined by one's natural abilities. By contrast, Plato's student Aristotle, while incorporating and responding to many aspects of Platonic thought, develops a decidedly organic, or this-worldly, system of ethics and a corresponding structure for the polis. Aristotle's famous claim that "man is by nature a political animal" captures his belief that a natural order between the individual and the community exists as both a power struggle and a distribution of resources, which has as its own end the good held both individually and in common. Such ideal notions of the city-state, whether Platonic or Aristotelian, and the particulars therein, have been a point of departure for political philosophers since the time of Plato's Athens to the present day.

Module II- Political Realism and early modern state (Machiavelli)

This module will discuss ideas of Italian political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli on early 16th century Europe ruled by absolute monarchies. Machiavelli is credited with the distinctly modern notion of an artificial (rather than natural) state in which the leader should rule swiftly, effectively, and in a calculated manner. Many have associated his theories with the use of deceit and cunning in politics, however after Machiavelli, in the realist paradigm politics came to be identified as an art in which the best rulers governed shrewdly, carefully calculating about enemies, populations, and the timing of certain actions. Credited for laying down the governing principles of the early modern state as an organized force over a consolidated territory, ruled by the sovereign lawgiver, one that separated the domain of political from religious, Machiavellian thoughts of 16th century resonate with the contemporary.

Module III: State as contract: Liberal Individualism (Thomas Hobbes and John Locke)

This module will focus on the idea of social contract and the transformation it brought in the modern political imagination by altering the relationship between state and the individual. Writing against the background of the English Civil war in the 17th century, the liberal philosophers- Hobbes and Locke- offered the methodological tool to think of state as a human creation. The individual was placed at the centre of political thought and the political society existed to protect the propriety of individuals over themselves. This module through a discussion on the philosophy of individualism as the new basis for the legitimacy of state, will focus on concepts such as political obligation, consent and particularly the new established right to private property, of which the state was the guarantor.

Module IV: Egalitarianism and collectivist political community (Rousseau and Marx)

An alternate understanding of social contract was proposed in the works of Jean Jacque Rousseau, often termed as the forerunner of Marx, where the contract was premised upon the natural equality among men to render obedience to themselves creating a sovereign political community of people. The corrupting effect of the institution of private property on men made Rousseau call for a radical restructuring of the existing 18th century European societies inspiring the revolutionaries in France. His idea of a collectivist political order based on direct democracy channelized however didn’t call for the abolition of private property. A rejection of all exiting notions of egalitarianism in liberal capitalist societies emerged in the thoughts of Karl Marx in the 19th century Europe. His conception of a communist society where state as a form of political institution withers away with the abolition of class and the institution of private property, transformed the political imaginings of human collective so far inescapably linked with the idea state in the modern world.

Reading List:

Module 1

Week 1: General lectures

  • What is political philosophy?
  • What is peculiar about western political philosophy, and why do we study it?

 

Essential Readings:

  • J. Coleman, (2000) ‘Introduction’, in A History of Political Thought: From Ancient Greece to Early Christianity, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, pp. 1-20.
  • G Sabine and T Thorson (1973), The Context of Political Theory, in A History of Political Theory (4th edition), Oxford.
  • Additional Readings:
  • Q. Skinner, (2010) ‘Preface’, in The Foundations of Modern Political Thought Volume I, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press pp. ix-xv.
  • B. Constant, (1833) ‘The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns’, in D. Boaz, (ed.), (1997) The Libertarian Reader, New York: The Free Press.

 

Week 2 & 3: Plato

  • Plato’s ideal state and justice as the basis of political community
  • Essential Readings:
  • E Barker (1906), The Political Thought of Plato and Aristotle, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons; London: Methuen (Chapter 3).
  • C. Reeve, (2009) ‘Plato’, in D. Boucher and P. Kelly, (eds.) Political Thinkers: From Socrates to the Present, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 62-80

 

Additional Readings:

  • A. Skoble and T. Machan, (2007) Political Philosophy: Essential Selections. New Delhi: Pearson Education, pp. 9-32.
  • R. Kraut, (1996) ‘The Defence of Justice in Plato's Republic’, in R. Kraut (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Plato. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 311-337
  • Plato. Republic. Trans. Robin Waterfield. Oxford: Oxford, 1993. (selected sections)

 

Week 4 and 5: Aristotle

  • Man as zoon politikon: political community as the highest form of human association
  • Classification of governments / from Ethics to Politics by way of Law

 

Essential Readings:

  • Aristotle. The Politics and The Constitution of Athens. Ed. Stephen Everson. Cambridge: Cambridge, 1996.
  • E Barker (1906), The Political Thought of Plato and Aristotle, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons; London: Methuen (Chapter 6).
  • G Sabine and T Thorson (1973), A History of Political Theory (4th edition), Oxford, (chapters 6 and 7)

 

Additional Readings:

  • D. Hutchinson, (1995) ‘Ethics’, in J. Barnes, (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 195-232.
  • T. Burns, (2009) ‘Aristotle’, in D. Boucher, and P. Kelly, (eds) Political Thinkers: From Socrates to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp.81-99.
  • C. Taylor, (1995) ‘Politics’, in J. Barnes (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 232-258

 

Module II

Week 6: Machiavelli

Statecraft: nature of political authority and means and ends of politics

Essential Readings:

  • Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Trans. Tim Parks. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. (selected [selected portions]
  • Skinner, Quentin. (2000) ‘The Adviser to Princes’, in Machiavelli: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 23-53
  • Additional Reading:
  • Q. Skinner, Q. (2000) ‘The Theorist of Liberty’, in Machiavelli: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 54-87.
  • Femia, J. (2009) ‘Machiavelli’, in D. Boucher, and P. Kelly, (eds) Political Thinkers: From Socrates to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 163-184

 

Module III

Week 7, 8 and 9: Thomas Hobbes and John Locke

  • Law of nature and natural rights (of property)
  • Origins of state and Political obligation

Readings:

Hobbes:

  • Tudor Jones (2002), Modern Political Thinkers and Ideas, Routledge, London and New York (pp 15-18, 41-45)
  • C L Wayper (1954), Teach Yourself Political Thought, Philosophical Library, USA (Chapter 2- State as Machine).
  • D. Baumgold, (2009) ‘Hobbes’, in D. Boucher and P. Kelly (eds) Political Thinkers: From Socrates to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 189-206.

Locke:

  • Tudor Jones (2002), Modern Political Thinkers and Ideas, Routledge, London and New York (pp 20-24, 46-50, 67-73)
  • C L Wayper (1954), Teach Yourself Political Thought, Philosophical Library, USA (Chapter 2- State as Machine).

 

Additional readings:

  • B. Nelson, (2008) Western Political Thought. New York: Pearson Longman (selected chapters)
  • C. Macpherson (1962) The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke. Oxford University Press, Ontario

 

Module IV

Week 10, 11 and 12: Rousseau and Marx

  • origins of inequality and critique of private property
  • alternate visions of political community

 

Readings:

Rousseau:

  • Tudor Jones (2002), Modern Political Thinkers and Ideas, Routledge, London and New York (pp 51-55, 74-81, 161-166)
  • G Sabine and T Thorson (1973), The Rediscovery of the Community- Rousseau, in A History of Political Theory (4th edition), Oxford
  • C. L. Wayper (1954), Teach Yourself Political Thought, Philosophical Library, USA (Chapter 3- State as Organism).

 

Marx:

  • Shlomo Avineri, 1968, The New Society, in The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx, Cambridge University Press
  • Tudor Jones (2002), Modern Political Thinkers and Ideas, Routledge, London and New York (pp 183-191)
  • Tom Bottomore, 1983, A Dictionary of Marxist Thought, Blackwell Publishers (select entries)

 

Assessment Details with weights:

Assessment will be based on a combination of mid-term class tests, take home assignment, class presentation and an end-semester examination.

  • Take home assignment (or class tests): 20
  • Mid-term exam: 30
  • Class presentation: 10
  • End-term exam; 30
  • Class participation: 10

 

Reading List:

Provided above with the module descriptions .