Introduction to Political and Legal Thinking: Home

Course Information

POL 160 001 Introduction to Political and Legal Thinking

10:30-11:20 Monday, Wednesday, Friday
Confer 125

Course Description

What makes government legitimate? What makes it stable? What are the strengths and weaknesses of democracy? Can democracy tolerate critics who wish to destroy it? Are democratic states especially prone to imperialism? What are the obligations of the rich to the poor, and vice versa? What is the proper role of the state in educating its citizens? What role does gender play in questions of governance? Is violence ever justified to overcome injustice?

These are some of the questions we will ask in this course. At times we will try to answer these questions through traditional lecture and discussion, yet we will also explore these issues by engaging in two elaborate games -- one set in Athens in 403 B.C. and centered on Plato's Republic and one set in revolutionary France and centered on the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Edmund Burke. At the beginning of each simulation, I will provide some historical and philosophical background, then you will be assigned roles based on historical figures. During our class meetings, you will divide up into factions and attempt to achieve your goals. Students whose characters function in a supervisory capacity (president of the Athenian Assembly or of the French National Assembly) will preside over what transpires. During the simulations, I will only intrude to resolve disputes or issue rulings on other matters. The heart of each game will be persuasion. For nearly every role to which you will be assigned, you will need to persuade others of your views. Your arguments will be informed by influential works of political thought. (For more about these simulations, see Introduction to Reacting to the Past.

If you encounter difficulty with these simulations, the readings, or the assignments, please do not hesitate to speak to me after class, during office hours or arrange another time to meet.

Course Objectives

This course is designed to aid students in
  • developing familiarity with significant works of political thought
  • enriching reading skills appropriate to advanced theoretical and philosophical texts;
  • improving writing skills and expressive abilities, both technically and aesthetically;
  • expanding independent critical capacities, both in analyzing moral arguments on their own merits and in relating those arguments to their own lives
  • enhancing capacity to work with and learn from other members of the class.