Introduction to Political and Legal Thinking: Syllabus

Spring 2010 syllabus (pdf)

Required Texts

  • Plato, Republic
  • Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract
  • Mark Carnes and Josiah Ober, The Threshold of Democracy
  • Mark Carnes and Gary Kates, Rousseau, Burke, and the French Revolution
  • Additional readings available here. These must be printed and brought to class on days for which they are assigned.

  • Course Requirements and Assessment

    This course is time-intensive. You should plan on spending at the very minimum 3 hours outside of class for each hour of class. That means you should budget at least 9-10 hours per week outside of class for reading, writing, meeting in small groups, and preparing for the simulations. Sometimes you will need more.

    If you do not feel that your schedule or interest will support such a heavy reading load and time commitment, please do not take this class.


    Consistent attendance is a minimum condition of class membership in general and all the more in a course designed around simulations. In a class such as this one, missing class is missing coursework that cannot be made up.


    Come to class ready to participate in simulations and engage in debate. Since this class requires a variety of voices, I expect all participants to be present both physically and mentally. Regular and active participation may nudge your grade upwards (at my discretion) and repeated absences will propel your grade downwards.

    Approach all of your work with thoughtfulness, especially your oral and written presentations. Thoughtfulness in this course involves both care and creativity. Your work should exhibit a clear and coherent argument, adequate textual support, impeccable grammar, and precise sentence structure. Yet it should also exhibit intellectual daring.

    Late arrivals are distracting and disrespectful. Persistent tardiness will lower your participation grade.

    Simulations and Dialogue Assignments

    Each simulation will require you to inhabit an assigned role, participate in decisions of the assembly, and produce written work (essays, poems, sermons, newspaper articles, diary entry, or whatever you think will persuade your opponents). You will be graded on your oral participation and written work. You will also be asked to write a dialogue after the simulation, exploring the theoretical arguments presented in the simulation.

    For each simulation, your grade will be calculated in the following way:
  • Written Work (20% of course grade)
  • Oral Participation (10% of course grade)
  • Dialogue Assignment (20% of course grade)

  • Portfolios

    The portfolio is an opportunity to gather together all of the work that you have produced during the term and reflect on what you have learned. It should include all of your work this semester as well as a short reflection (1-2 pages). The reflection essay is your chance to articulate your thoughts about your work in the course.

    Here are a few topics you might address:
  • You could discuss the piece(s) that you most enjoyed reading and discussing (and why).
  • You could discuss the essay, speech, or newspaper article that you are most proud of producing (and why).
  • You could consider a specific instance in which your critical capacities to analyze arguments were challenged or improved.
  • Or you could discuss the specific ways in which you improved your ability to work and learn from others in the class.

  • In each case be sure to be as specific as possible, describing a particular reading, essay or event but also reflecting on its significance for your intellectual development.

    Your portfolio should include:
  • Reflection on your work during the term (1-2 pages).
  • All quizzes and assignments completed during the term.
  • The written work for the Athens simulation that has been graded.
  • The written work for the French Revolution simulation that has been graded.
  • Any other written work that has not been submitted or graded (This might include speeches, prayers (remember the heralds?), notes, laws, that you wrote but did not submit as part of your assignment).

  • N.B.

    Failure to complete any major component of the course (e.g., failure to attend an adequate number of classes, failing to adequately prepare for substantial numbers of classes, or failing to complete assignments related to the simulations) may entail failing the course as a whole, regardless of performance on the completed components.

    Late assignments will be docked at least 1 full grade per day for 2 days after the original due date. Except under extraordinary circumstances and with prior permission, assignments will not be accepted if more than 24 hours have passed since the assignment was due. No extensions will be permitted on the submission of casebooks. Assignments will not be accepted via e-mail without prior permission.

    Academic Honesty

    I take the principles of academic honesty seriously and will uphold the policies and procedures of Gustavus Adolphus College. Your continued presence in this class indicates that your work for this course will comply with the academic honesty policy and the Honor Code.

    Dishonesty of any kind with respect to examinations, course assignments, alteration of records, or illegal possession of examinations is considered cheating. Students are responsible not only to abstain from cheating, but also to avoid making it possible for others to cheat. Submitting someone else’s work as your own constitutes plagiarism. Academic honesty requires the full acknowledgement of ideas taken from another source for use in a course paper or project. You must include citations for material that you quote or paraphrase from another text; in general, it is better to overcite than to undercite.

    All work that you submit for this course may be submitted only to this course and should be based upon work and thought undertaken only for this course.

    Violations of the Academic Honesty Policy will result in at least a grade of 0 for the specific assignment and/or failure of the course. Students accused and/or penalized for these violations and students who become aware of such violations have specific rights and responsibilities as outlined in the Honor Code section of the College Catalogue.

    Please see the Gustavus Academic Catalog for copies of the relevant policies.


    Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Art of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) work together to ensure 'reasonable accommodation' and non-discrimination for students with disabilities in higher education. A student who has a physical, psychiatric/emotional, medical, learning, or attentional disability that may have an effect on the student's ability to complete assigned course work should contact the Disability Services Coordinator in the Advising Center, who will review the concerns and decide with the student what accommodations are necessary. Upon receipt of documentation from Laurie Bickett, Disability Services Coordinator, I will be happy to work with you on appropriate accommodations.