Political Theory/Social & Political Philosophy

Steve Smith smithsg@millsaps.edu
Christian Center 19
Office hours & syllabus posted @ stevengsmith.org

Government & Politics 2650—POLITICAL THEORY
Peace and Justice Studies 2750-02
Fall 2019 MW 2:30

Humans are social beings: we live cooperatively, each of us depending on fellow humans to survive and to flourish. We have various, sometimes conflicting ways of doing this.

Humans are political beings: we think together about how we can best reach our goals. We have various, sometimes conflicting ways of doing this. Often our political thinking is under ethical or religious constraint.

Humans are philosophical beings: we reflect on the possibilities of life in order to understand it and explain it to each other better. We have various, sometimes rival ways of doing this.

In this course we will investigate possibilities of social living and political thinking. We will try to attend to the issues that matter the most. Our primary goals are (1) to appropriate the most powerful ideas and arguments in the Western tradition of social and political philosophy, and (2) to strengthen our capacities of reflection and communication.

Grades for the course will be based on class participation (15%), a philosophical notebook (25%), a project (20%), a take-home midterm exam (20%), and a take-home final exam (20%).

Readings will be assigned in this book, available in the Millsaps bookstore:

The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought. Essential Readings, ed. Andrew Bailey et al.

Readings will also be assigned in handouts. Assignments will be made in class. Often important class information will be sent by e-mail.

SCHEDULE subject to revision by announcement

Aug. 26 Introduction to the course.

Aug. 28 Basic human considerations for social and political theory.

READ: Malthus, An Essay on Population and “Summary View of the Principle of Population” handout; E. O. Wilson, Sociobiology handout

Sept. 2 LABOR DAY.

Sept. 4 The fount of Western political theory: Plato’s Republic.

READ: Plato, Republic, in the Broadview Anthology (BA) 29-45

Sept. 9 Plato cont.

READ: Plato, BA 59-68, 93-105

Sept. 11 Aristotle on rule.

READ: Aristotle, Politics I, BA 128-132; “Harper’s Memoir on Slavery” handout

Sept. 16 The concept of two cities: the temporal and the spiritual

READ: Augustine, City of God handout

Sept. 18 Natural law.

READ: Aquinas, Summa Theologica handout; King, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” handout

Sept. 23 Modern social contract theory.

READ: Hobbes, Leviathan, Part I, Chaps. 13-15, BA 258-270

Sept. 25 Social contract, cont.

READ: Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government, BA 332-345

Sept. 30 Social contract, cont.

READ: Rousseau, Social Contract, BA 466-477

Oct. 2 Responses to the French Revolution.

READ: Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens handout; Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, BA 606-610; Bentham, “A Critical Examination of the Declaration of Rights” handout

Oct. 7 Responses, cont.

READ: Rousseau, Emile handout; Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Chap. 1, BA 566-574; Chap. 3, 583 (“But should it be proved . . .”)-586; Chap. 9, 593-598

Oct. 9 Utilitarianism and liberalism.

READ: Mill, On Liberty, Chaps. 1-2, BA 627-640


Oct. 14 Liberalism, cont.

READ: Mill, Chap. 5, BA 650-652; gun policy handout TBA

Oct. 16 Philosophy of history.

READ: Kant, “Idea for a Universal History” handout.


Oct. 21 Philosophy of history, cont.

READ: Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, BA 692-698; Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto, BA 717-727

Oct. 23 Socialism.

READ: Engels, “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific” handout

Oct. 28 Anarchism.

READ: Kropotkin, Law and Authority and Mutual Aid handout
Oct. 30 Feminist critique of Marxism.

READ: Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State and Firestone, Dialectic of Sex handouts

Nov. 4 Rawls’ update of social contract theory and liberalism.

READ: Rawls, A Theory of Justice, BA 861-875
Nov. 6 Rawls, cont.

READ: Rawls, BA 881-890; Okin, “Justice as Fairness—For Whom?” BA 961-976

Nov. 11 Nozick’s Lockean entitlement theory.

READ: Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, BA 907-915, 916-920

Nov. 13 Race as a social & political issue.

READ: Alain Locke, “The Contribution of Race to Culture” and Charles W. Mills, The Racial Contract handouts

Nov. 18 Human rights.

READ: Universal Declaration of Human Rights handout

Nov. 20 Critical perspectives on human rights.



Dec. 2 Global governance.


Dec. 4 Theopolitics

READ: Khomeini, “The Religious Scholars Led the Revolt” & Buber, “The Land and Its Possessors” handout





For your course notebook, a loose-leaf binder is recommended. This will make it easier to hand in and take back your entries, and also to keep handouts together.

Once a week, usually on Wednesday, you will turn in the latest entry in your philosophical notebook—about 500 words or 2 pp. if typed double-space—in which you discuss the week’s work (readings and discussions) both positively and negatively.

Positively, you will attempt to draw out of the week’s work the elements that you most want to include in your own philosophical toolkit—ideas and arguments that are, you think, valid and worth using in the future. You are encouraged to develop ideas and arguments in ways that suit your own purposes.

Negatively, you will attempt to identify the mistakes or otherwise unhelpful elements in the week’s work. (You are not committing yourself to rejecting anything! You can change your mind later!)

The philosophical notebook for this class is an important learning tool that will enable you to keep track of what we come up with in a cumulative way. It will also prompt useful communication with the instructor and other class members.

Individual notebook entries and responses will be graded unsatisfactory (-), satisfactory (\/), or very good (+) depending on the attentiveness and thoughtfulness they show. The notebook as a whole will get a letter grade.



For your major project, a 7-8 pp. paper (typed, double-spaced), you will tackle a social and/or political issue on the basis of a philosophical rationale. In this paper you are expected to:

  1. Introduce your reader to a significant, philosophically interesting issue. Show how the issue is located in (a) a real-life practical context (for example, it’s a policy issue that an institutional agency could act on), and (b) an intellectual history (for example, it’s an issue for liberalism that J. S. Mill failed to resolve in On Liberty).
  2. Develop a philosophical strategy for resolving it. To do this, you must (a) identify the key basic social and political assumptions on which your issue hinges, and (b) explain and justify a way of supporting, modifying, or rejecting those assumptions, leading to a better-justified way of thinking about the issue.
  3. Defend your position against at least one substantial objection to it. State the objection as potently as possible; answer it as reasonably as possible.

You will consult with the instructor about your topic and approach before you write the paper. This process will begin with a 1-page prospectus for the paper that you turn in by Oct. 11 at the latest. (The prospectus is a microcosm of the paper you might write; it tells enough about your issue and proposed approach that a reader can give you substantial advice on your project.) You can turn in a prospectus earlier, and you can change your plans later; in fact, we can communicate about this project through most of the semester. A challenge we will try to meet together is to look ahead in the semester so that you don’t overlook some of the best materials and issues in deciding what to write about.

Our experience in class will make it increasingly clear what a good topic and good philosophical approach would look like.

Be socially and politically sensitive; think carefully, yet boldly; have fun. You will have an opportunity to rewrite.



All students are strongly encouraged to visit the Writing Center, which is staffed by student Writing Consultants trained to help you grow as writers. Writing Consultants work with all writers, in all disciplines, at all skill levels, and in all stages of the writing process. These consultations are most useful to students 48 hours or more in advance of a due date, and many students benefit from multiple visits during the writing process. Students may elect to send a session report summarizing their Writing Center visit to professors. If you would like to notify your professor of your visit, please inform the Consultant when you arrive at the Writing Center. Students may also request to share a session report after their visit by emailing writingcenter@millsaps.edu. Visit millsaps.mywconline.com for more information about hours, locations, and upcoming events.



  1. Class attendance. Being in class, being engaged with the work of the class, and behaving courteously are all expected. One discourtesy to avoid is coming into class late. Better late than never, definitely; but lateness counts as half an absence—that is, your work with the class that day will be counted as only half done. One percent of the course grade will be lost for each absence from class for any reason, beginning with the third absence. (For example, someone who missed class 7 times would lose 5% of the course grade, or half a letter grade.) The reason for this: our in-class work is a crucial and irreplaceable part of the substance of the course.
  2. Electronic communication devices (phones, laptops, etc.). Electronic devices have become harmful Interrupters and Distracters in the current state of our social evolution. But they can also give helpful access to information during class discussion. While in class, be careful to use such a device only in a helpful way. If you have special needs, discuss with me.
  3. Late papers. Written assignments turned in late will lose a letter grade or equivalent. Homework may not be turned in more than one week after its due date. No work of any kind will be accepted after the last day of final examinations. Exceptions to this policy will be granted only to the victims of unforeseeable and uncontrollable circumstances.
  4. As a general rule, no e-mail submissions. Unless the instructor allows it under specified circumstances, e-mail submissions of assigned writing are not accepted.
  5. Plagiarism. Using the words or ideas of others without acknowledgment—that is, passing them off as your own—is a fraudulent practice called plagiarism. It also misses one of the main points of being in college, which is to develop your powers of thought and expression. Plagiarism is an offense under the Academic Honor Code (see next page).
  6. Incompletes. An “Incomplete” grade for the course will only be given to students who, due to unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances, find themselves unable to complete course requirements during the term and can reasonably be expected to complete them within a few weeks after the term’s end. The “Incomplete” must be requested and appropriately justified before the end of final examinations.
  7. Disabilities. Students with documented disabilities should discuss their needs with the instructor at the beginning of the semester.

From the ODS: Under the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504, accommodations can be made for students with disabilities or learning differences. If you require accommodations, please contact Katie Sorey to register with the Office of Accessibility Services. You may reach her via e-mail atsoreyko@millsaps.edu or by calling 601-974-1235. Accommodations will not be granted until you have a meeting with Katie, your letters/documentation are processed, and you meet with your instructor.



Millsaps College is an academic community dedicated to the pursuit of scholarly inquiry and intellectual growth. The foundation of this community is a spirit of personal honesty and mutual trust. Through their Honor Code, the students of Millsaps College affirm their adherence to these basic ethical principles.

An Honor Code is not simply a set of rules and procedures governing students’ academic conduct. It is an opportunity to put personal responsibility and integrity into action. When students agree to abide by an Honor Code, they liberate themselves to pursue their academic goals in an atmosphere of mutual confidence and respect.

The success of the Code depends on the support of each member of the community. Students and faculty alike commit themselves in their work to the principles of academic honesty. When they become aware of infractions, both students and faculty are obligated to report them to the Honor Council, which is responsible for enforcement. A representative, but not exhaustive, list of academic offenses and violations covered by the Millsaps Academic Honor Code is provided at http://www.millsaps.edu/resources/honor-council.php.

The pledge signed by all students upon entering the College is as follows:

As a Millsaps College student, I hereby affirm that I understand the Honor Code and am aware of its implications and of my responsibility to the Code. In the interests of expanding the atmosphere of respect and trust in the College, I promise to uphold the Honor Code and I will not tolerate dishonest behavior in myself or in others.

Each examination, quiz, or other assignment that is to be graded will carry the written pledge: “I hereby certify that I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment. (Signature)” The abbreviation “Pledged” followed by the student’s signature has the same meaning and may be acceptable on assignments other than final examinations.

The following is a representative, but not exhaustive list of academic offenses and violations covered by this Millsaps Academic Honor Code:

  1. Plagiarism
  2. Dishonesty on examinations and tests
  3. Using any outside material deemed not usable by the professor of the course
  4. Giving or receiving answers while taking a test
  5. Revealing the content of an exam before others have taken it
  6. Dishonesty on assignments
  7. Receiving unauthorized help on an assignment
  8. Submitting the same paper for two classes unless approved by the professors of both classes
  9. Interfering with another student’s course materials
  10. Lying about academic matters, including missed assignments or absences
  11. Unauthorized use of a computer file, program, user name, or password
  12. Unauthorized use of, tampering with, or removing community materials from laboratories or the library

It is the responsibility of students and faculty to report offenses to the Honor Code Council in the form of a written report. This account must be signed, the accusation explained in as much detail as possible and submitted to the Dean’s Office using the DeansOffice@millsaps.edu mailbox.

The Honor Council, 2019–2020

Student Members                                            Faculty Members
Emma Carter, Chair                                        Dr. Anne MacMaster
Alvin Joseph, Vice Chair                                Dr. Nathan Shrader, Advisor
Kaylee Snodgrass, Sergeant-At-Arms
Teja Gollapudi
Brenna Michael

One more undergraduate position will be filled at the beginning of the spring term.