Ancient and Medieval Political Thought

Course Information

POL 265 001 Ancient and Medieval Political Thought

8:30-9:50 Tuesday, Thursday
Old Main 05

Course Description

This course is a survey of ancient Western political and social thought. We will focus on the ideas and theories of a variety of political theorists including Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, and Augustine. Because one of our purposes in this course will be to survey, in roughly chronological order, some important political theories, we will situate each theorist in the particular historical periods in which they lived and analyze the various answers that they sought to offer to the permanent questions of soulcraft (how should we live as good and happy people) and statecraft (how should we live together). In doing so, we shall consider questions of human nature, and the nature of justice, freedom, obligation, and community.

But this is not simply a course designed to teach you what others have thought. Rather, we will turn our critical and analytic skills to these theories to evaluate and assess their cogency, coherence, and usefulness in engaging the concrete political and social problems their authors intended to address. In addition, we will consider their relevance and importance for our own political and social questions. These goals will demand that you develop an understanding of how these thinkers thought, not simply that you remember what they said. Writing assignments and exams will ask you to demonstrate your knowledge of the thinkers’ specific writings and your understanding of their approach to social and political questions.

Writing Intensive (WRITI) courses are also intended to introduce students to the writing process, to writing as a means of learning, to rhetorical issues such as purpose, audience, and context, and narrative and to argumentative strategies used most frequently by writers educated in the liberal arts tradition. Consequently, we will regularly discuss student writing in class, develop your abilities to make appropriate rhetorical choices, and use a process-based approach that affords you the opportunity to draft, revise, and edit several writing assignments.

Course Objectives

By the end of the semester, students will:

  • Develop familiarity with, comprehension of, and an evaluation of significant works of ancient political theory;
  • Recognize political phenomena, cultural values, and power structures that shape central issues of political thought;
  • Engage in critical analysis of ancient political theories through writing, in-class discussion, and examinations;
  • Assess the applicability and relevance of ancient political theory to contemporary political thought and political practice;
  • Develop and elaborate reasons and explanations for one’s own political beliefs;
  • Use writing as a means of self-expression, critical inquiry, creative expression, argumentation, communication, and exploration. (This course carries a WRIT designation. Thus, we will engage discussion of writing explicitly and will treat the act of writing as integral to the subject matter.)