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Hudson University

PHIL 205a:
A History of Ideas: Western Political Philosophy up to the French Revolution
Fall 2015

Gaear Grimsrud, Professor of Philosophy


W 3:10 PM- 6:00 PM


Taft 308C


Taft 204C





T 4:00 PM-7:00 PM or by appointment

Technical Course Descriptors:

Course Section: 001 CRN: 57685 Credits: 3 points
Prerequisites: Phil 103 (Intro to Western Philosophy) strongly recommended
Political philosophy at its base is not about rhetoric or political games. It is about deriving
underlying universal truths from political opinions and contexts. Yet, these truths did not grow in
a vacuum they are a product of people in their times. As the preeminent political philosopher
Leo Strauss said, to truly understand the theories one must understand the thought of a
philosopher exactly as he understood it himself. This course intends to take a cross-disciplinary
approach in reconciling political philosophy and history
During the course of 14 weeks we will look at the most important pre-modern era political
philosophers and their ideas as well as the historical contexts that informed their lives and works.
We will focus on the core ideas behind political philosophy; Authority, Liberty and Justice, as
they evolved and shifted with different philosophers through history. Some of the key questions
that we will be asking are:
What justification does the state use to exert their authority?
When is it a citizen or subjects duty to obey the state? To rise up?
Under what conditions is the exertion of authority legitimate?
Who has the right to lead the state and when?
What defines a citizen and how does the concept change over time?
Is the political system trying to add or subtract barriers to liberty? And, if so, to whose
How is justice defined?
How does religion influence the various philosophies?
Is the philosopher trying to preserve or change the dominant system?
How is the particular work of philosophy a reflection of its time period?
Each week the class will examine a different political philosopher. These philosophers have been
chosen because of their level of influence on subsequent philosophers and their enduring legacy

in history. This class spans a period of time from the birth of political philosophy through the
French Revolution - a watershed moment in Western History and political philosophy.
Each class will be divided into two interconnected parts: a discussion of the historical context
around the philosopher and a discussion of the philosophers seminal works with regards to the
context and previous philosophies that have been explored. The historical readings have been
chosen to establish a sense of the zeitgeist prevalent for each particular philosopher. The readings
are mainly from primary sources and, as such, they serve not just to set the historical stage but
also to give a sense of the contemporary intellectual fashion or dominant schools of thought.
By the end of the course, students will be able to:

Identify and understand the central arguments of political philosophy for each era and
critically assess them within their historical context
Connect these political concepts, principles and arguments to their own lives and the
modern political landscape
Trace the evolution of the concepts of authority, liberty and justice through history

Main course texts:
Cahn, Steven M. Political Philosophy: The Essential Texts. New York: Oxford University
Press, 2005.
Phil 205 Course Booklet - Indicated with a (C) in the syllabus
Please look ahead now into the course calendar and plan your semester-long work schedule in
relation to this variable workload, realizing that additional readings may be brought in from time
to time.
Please note that your readings for the semester have been pre-assigned see the attached course
calendar. However, these may change, including by addition: I may, occasionally, add readings
or exercises to alert you to relevant research findings, or additional insights on a topic discussed
in class. Such additions will be announced in class and an announcement will be placed in
Course Requirements and Expectations
I expect students to come to each class ready to discuss both the assigned philosophy and history
readings. Your presence in and contribution to class are essential to the progress that you and
your peers can make. Though it is critical that you read the assignments, solo reading is never
enough. We will use class time to engage in shared interpretation and analysis of readings.
Absences should be communicated through e-mail to Professor Grimsrud in advance, and are
only permissible for illness or emergencies. Since we only meet once a week, missing one class
can greatly jeopardize your ability to be up-to-date with the course materials, and may result in a
lower grade for class participation. It is highly recommended that you utilize your peers to
communicate back to you any missing work or content in the event of your absence.

Paper #1--Due Week 5: Ancient/Early Christianity

What parallels do you see between the works of the ancient Greek philosophers and the thoughts
of St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas? How does Christianity influence the political thought of
the medieval philosophers?


Paper #2--Due Week 12: Social Contract Theory

How does the historical context influence the evolution of social contract theory from Hobbes to
Final Paper--Due Week 14: Revolution and Philosophy
Using the political philosophers discussed throughout this course, explore how
various ideas influenced the thoughts behind the French Revolution.
Evaluation Mechanisms: The papers--two midterm assignments and the final
assignment--are graded using a predetermined set of criteria that will be shared
with the students later in the semester at a time when the students can reasonably
begin to work on the assignments. In addition, discussion is of these topics is
absolutely necessary throughout the learning process; which is why class
participation will also be a component of the final grade. The papers and
participation will be graded on a scale of 1-100, with final grades to be assigned
based on the attached grading scale. The numeric grade on which your final course
letter grade is based will be computed as follows:

Paper #1
25 %

Paper #2
25 %

Final Paper
35 %

Class Attendance
15 %
Students are expected to finish the course as scheduled. Grades of "Incomplete" will be
restricted to emergencies.

Course Calendar
Week 1: Introduce the Core Concepts that will be discussed throughout semester using the case
of Edward Snowden via The NSA and Edward Snowden (C)
Why is the discussion of political philosophy still relevant?
As we have seen from the Snowden WikiLeaks incident, the definition of the rights of a
citizen have been shifting in this era. How are the core concepts of liberty, justice, and
authority being redefined in the modern era?
As we continue throughout the semester, it is also important to keep in mind how would each
philosopher defines the core concepts of Authority, Liberty, and Justice.
Leo Strauss, "What is Political Philosophy?" The Journal of Politics

1 Segment Ancient Greek and Early Christian

Segment I (Classes 2-5)
The Ancient Greeks and Early Christian: The foundations of Political Philosophy
It is commonly believed that the origins of Political Philosophy came from Platos The Republic.
The Ancient Greeks existed in city-states which used different governmental structures and it
was Plato that documented these structures and the ethical and political implications of each.
After his work, Philosophers sought to continue this conversation on Political Philosophy. In this
first segment we will discuss the the foundations of Political Philosophy through the lens of the
Ancient Greek and Early Christian thinkers, from Plato to St. Thomas Aquinas. For these
philosophers, it is defining the basics of politics--the placement of authority, the ethical
components, laws and justice--that are the main topics of discussion. As we transition into the
medieval period, the role of God in politics becomes important and the philosophies of the time
reflect this change. In the latter two weeks of this segment, St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas
demonstrate how God as an authority figure changes the political dynamics.

Week 2: Plato--Outlining the different forms of Government that lay the groundwork for the
future of Political Philosophy
Looking at Thucydides account of the Pelopponesian War and Xenophons description of
the rise of the Oligarchy of the Thirty Tyrants, what commentaries on the contemporary
regime do you find in The Republic?
What are the types of political regimes that Plato discusses in The Republic? How is
authority distributed within each type of structure?
Context - Oligarchy of the Thirty Tyrants and the trial and execution of Socrates
Plato, The Republic
Xenophon, Hellenika (C)
Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War (C)
Week 3: Aristotle--Focusing on the role of the politician and their different tasks and
Compare Plato and Aristotles views on the question of who should rule and where a
rulers authority comes from? Contrast the virtuous rulers of Ethics with Platos
conception of the Philosopher king.
According to Aristotle, the existence of city-states are a result of the four causes. Using
your knowledge from the reading, what are the four causes and how do they inform the
political structures of these communities?
Context Greek City-States and Alexander the Great
Aristotle, Politics
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Xenophon, Constitution of the Athenians (C)
Week 4: St. Augustine--An introduction to the relationship between Church and State in politics

How does Augustine address the Christian crisis of faith following the sack of Rome in
410 CE?
Justice is an important concept to Aristotle, what is his theory of justice and the nature of

Augustine, City of God
Augustine, On Christian Doctrine
Jerome, Letter CXXVII (To Principia) (C)
The Codex Theodosianus: On Religion (C)
Butler, Fr. Alban, Lives of the Saints (C)
Baumer, Franklin. The Medieval Christian World-View (C)
Week 5: Thomas Aquinas--Using the Christian gospel to interpret the Aristotelian political
Identify the four categories of law according to Thomas Aquinas? Define the different
laws and who/what is involved in each.
How does the Magna Carta reflect Saint Augustines assertion that a law that is not just
cannot be called a law? How else is Christianity reflected in medieval philosophical
Context Early Constitutionalism
Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
The Magna Carta (C)
Richer of Rheims, Journey to Chartres (C)
John I, Concession Of England To The Pope (C)
Glanville Treatise (C)
2 Segment - The Renaissance and Reformation
Segment II (Classes 6-8)
The Renaissance and the Reformation: A Breakaway from the Catholic Church
Coming from a period marked heavily by the teachings of the Church, the Renaissance and the
Reformation gave birth to ideas that threatened the Catholic framework. The Renaissance was an
intellectual reawakening in which the thoughts of the Ancient Greeks and Romans were
reintroduced. These ideas spread quickly and forced the Church to compete with the emerging
teachings. Them came the Reformation which, in contrast to the Renaissance, tried to reform the
Church rather than simply provide alternative teachings. By this point the Church had become a
political institution and the Renaissance and Reformation sought to change this. Over the next
few weeks, we will discuss the works of Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke
and how these great thinkers questioned the authority of the Catholic Church.

Week 6: Niccolo Machiavelli--The Definition of Power and how to use it appropriately

Using examples from the text, what is it, according to the teachings of Machiavelli, that
makes a good ruler?
Context Absolute Monarchs and Italian City-States

Machiavelli, Niccolo, The Prince
Machiavelli, Niccolo, Letter to Francesco de Vitoria (C)
Lorenzo De Medici, Paternal Advice To A Cardinal (C)
Petrarch, The Ascent of Mount Ventoux (C)
Niccol Machiavelli, History of Florence: Lorence de' Medici (C)
Erasmus, Selections from Institutio (C)
Paper #1 Due
Week 7: Thomas Hobbes--Defining the state of nature and why it calls for governance
Hobbes explains that due to the state of nature, society needs the Leviathan. What is the
state of nature? What are the responsibilities of the Leviathan?
Context - Divine Right of Kings and the English Civil War
Hobbes, Thomas, Selections from Leviathan
Stanford Encyclopedia Entry on Hobbes Moral and Political Philosophy (C)
Englands Woes (Traditional ballad) (C)
English Parliament, Declaration to Justify Their Proceedings and Resolutions to Take Up Arms,
August 4, 1642 (C)
England's Oaths of Supremacy and Allegiance (C)
King Charles I of England, Extracts From His Own Defense at His Trial for Treason (C)
Overton, Richard, An arrow against all tyrants (C)
Week 8: John Locke--A discussion on the rights of the people and their consent for governance
Similar to the theories set forth by Hobbes, Locke discusses Natural Law. How is Natural
Law vital in the creation of a political structure?
Context - The Glorious Revolution and English Republicans
Locke, John, Second Treatise of Government
Vindiciae contra tyrannos ("Defences [of liberty] against tyrants") (C)
English Bill of Rights 1689 (C)
Locke, John, A Letter Concerning Toleration (C)
Samuel von Pufendorf, "On the Duty of Man and Citizen" (C)
3 Segment Age of Enlightenment
Segment III (Classes 9-10)
The Age of Enlightenment: Tradition vs. Individualism and Reasoning
Segment III of this course will continue from the cultural rebirth and reformation of the
Renaissance to introduce how that awakening reshaped philosophical thinking to abandon
traditional thinking. This period of time, referred to as the Age of Enlightenment, or the Age of
Reason, focuses on reasoning and individualism to approach a wide spectrum of matters. We
will focus these class periods exploring historical turning points on how the Age of
Enlightenment was a period of significant authoritative change between monarchies in Western
Europe, to religious authoritative decline as a result of the discovery of the natural laws of the
universe. We will then hone in on philosophical thinkers, specifically David Hume, Jeanrd

Jacques Rousseau, and Montesquieu, and their determination of liberty by bringing to light the
natural rights of mankind, the natural laws of the universe and their progressive thinking in
questioning moral values, and current knowledge to set the early stepping stones for an eventual
Western revolution.
Week 9: Baron de Montesquieu--Defining the Citizen in Relation to Community and the frames
of Political Liberty to Separate the Powers of Government
What is the principal? How does the principal of each political system influence the
behaviors of citizens? What do you think would happen if there is no principal to the
political system the citizens support? Please use an example from the readings.
What would you argue to be the natural liberties of mankind? In what ways does or does
not mirror Montesquieus thoughts?
Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws
Pangle, T. L., Montesquieu's Philosophy of Liberalism: A Commentary on the Spirit of the
Voltaire, Letter VIII: On The Parliament & Letter IX: On The Government, Letters on the
English (C)
Voltaire, Select Entries from the The Philosophical Dictionary, Democracy Civil Laws
Laws Free Will Philosopher Tyranny (C)
Paris Salons in the 18th Century (C)
La Chalotais, "Essay on National Education" (C)
Week 10: Jean-Jacques Rousseau--Social Contract Theory and the Beginnings of Questioning
Authority and Governance
Rousseau asserts that Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains. What is it that
he means through this statement? What does he propose in order to reconcile the
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality
Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, On the Social Contract
Week 11: David Hume--Social Contract Theory and the Beginnings of Questioning Authority
and Governance
What is authority? Who has authority, and why do they have the authority?
How would you do define consent? Focus this response on the reading of Humes Of the
Original Contract. According to Hume, how have previous philosophers viewed consent
between a subject and authority, and in his belief, how is consent actually dictated? Why
do you think consent for governance is or is not an important basis for building a stable
How did Humes affiliation with the Tory party show itself in his writing?
Hume, David, On the Original Contract
Wennerlind, C. David Hume's political philosophy: A theory of commercial modernization
Hume, David, My Own Life (C)

Hume, David, Letter to John Clephane, 1756 (C)

Stuart, Gilbert, A view of society in Europe, (Section 5) (C)
4 Segment - Revolution
Segment IV (Classes 12-14)
The Start of a Revolution:
Segment IV of this course picks up immediately from the our philosophical and historical
synthesis of the Age of Enlightenment, highlighting and developing the ideas of liberty, justice
and the rights of man. This section will focus on the historical events leading up to the American
Revolution, as well as how the keynote philosophical and political minds of Adam Smith, David
Hume began to pinpoint the natural born rights of man using the Age of Enlightenment as one of
their sources of inspiration. For these two class sections, we will dissect the political climate,
citizens attitudes as a result of access to information, and actions of citizens of the time period to
better understand the extreme philosophical and political turning point in history that paved the
way for modern day thinkers and political systems. More importantly, we will begin to study the
sheer level of magnetism the American Revolution had on the Western world leading up to the
French Revolution.

Week 12: Adam Smith--New Understanding of Economics and its Relation to the Rights of Man
What is it about the mercantile system that divides a society? How is it important to
develop a new economic system in terms of facilitating the development of mankind? In
what ways could this be done?
How would you define the appropriate roles of government? What needs to be in place
for there to be stabilized society and government?
Smith, Adam, Selections from The Wealth of Nations
Smith, A., & Nicholson, J. S. (1887). An inquiry into the nature and causes of the Wealth of
Nations... T. Nelson and Sons. Chapter 1, Introductory Essay, pp. 1-32
Waterman, A. M. (2002). Economics as theology: Adam Smith's wealth of nations. Southern
Economic Journal, 907-921.
Hutcheson, Francis, An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections (C)
Paper #2 Due
Week 13: The French Revolution
Which philosophical concepts do you see reflected in the documents coming from the
French Revolution?
The Tennis Court Oath (C)
Dclaration des Droits de l'homme et du citoyen (C)
The Decree Abolishing the Feudal System (C)
Civil Constitution of the Clergy (C)
Paine, Thomas, Common Sense (C)
Week 14: Snowden Discussion revisited

Using the information acquired through the course, we will reopen the discussion on the
Snowden case in order to evaluate whether these theories and past events have altered the
students personal opinions about the situation.
Final Papers Due during the appropriate timeslot during Finals Week