(PLSC 114) This course is intended as an introduction to political philosophy as seen through an examination of some of the major texts and thinkers of the Western political tradition. Three broad themes that are central to understanding political life are focused upon: the polis experience (Plato, Aristotle), the sovereign state (Machiavelli, Hobbes), constitutional government (Locke), and democracy (Rousseau, Tocqueville). The way in which different political philosophies have given expression to various forms of political institutions and our ways of life are examined throughout the course.
This class was recorded in Fall 2006.
01 - Introduction: What is Political Philosophy?
Professor Smith discusses the nature and scope of "political philosophy." The oldest of the social sciences, the study of political philosophy must begin with the works of Plato and Aristotle, and examine in depth the fundamental concepts and categories of the study of politics. The questions "which regimes are best?" and "what constitutes good citizenship?" are posed and discussed in the context of Plato's Apology.
02 - Socratic Citizenship: Plato, Apology
The lecture begins with an explanation of why Plato's Apology is the best introductory text to the study of political philosophy. The focus remains on the Apology as a symbol for the violation of free expression, with Socrates justifying his way of life as a philosopher and defending the utility of philosophy for political life.
03 - Socratic Citizenship: Plato, Crito
In the Apology, Socrates proposes a new kind of citizenship in opposition to the traditional one that was based on the poetic conception of Homer. Socrates' is a philosophical citizenship, relying on one's own powers of independent reason and judgment. The Crito, a dialogue taking place in Socrates' prison cell, is about civil obedience, piety, and the duty of every citizen to respect and live by the laws of the community.
04 - Philosophers and Kings: Plato, Republic, I-II
Lecture 4 introduces Plato's Republic and its many meanings in the context of moral psychology, justice, the power of poetry and myth, and metaphysics. The Republic is also discussed as a utopia, presenting an extreme vision of a polis--Kallipolis--Plato's ideal city.
05 - Philosophers and Kings: Plato, Republic, III-IV
The discussion of the Republic continues. An account is given of the various figures, their role in the dialogue and what they represent in the work overall. Socrates challenges Polemarchus' argument on justice, questions the distinction between a friend and an enemy, and asserts his famous thesis that all virtues require knowledge and reflection at their basis.
06 - Philosophers and Kings: Plato, Republic, V
In this last session on the Republic, the emphasis is on the idea of self-control, as put forward by Adeimantus in his speech. Socrates asserts that the most powerful passion one needs to learn how to tame is what he calls thumos. Used to denote "spiritedness" and "desire," it is associated with ambitions for public life that both virtuous statesmen as well as great tyrants may pursue. The lecture ends with the platonic idea of justice as harmony in the city and the soul.
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An understated subversiveness that will fill you with hope...
These lectures are invaluable listening for anyone interested in: ethics, politics, philosophy, history, education, literature _ the list could be endless.
Smith makes the texts and the issues raised by them both accessible and provocative. The voices of thinkers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Hobbes, are made to speak out relevantly to our own political situation in a very understated way. For example, and it really is only one example, the lectures on Plato go way beyond political or philosophical summarising, focusing rather upon historical, dramatic and literary contexts that are very illuminating, especially in the subtle and evocative contrasts and comparisons that are drawn between our own states and statesmen and those described and prescribed by Plato.
The style and tone of the lectures and their content makes them a perfect introduction to political philosophy.
Perhaps a lecture on Thomas Jefferson could have been included because he is one of the people you will really want to know more about after listening to this excellent course. Quite simply, the world wide web in one of its very best manifestations.