Wide-scope survey courses in the history of political thought are a great challenge both to teach and to take as a student. Texts like Plato’s Republic, Hobbes’s Leviathan, and Augustine’s City of God can be difficult for undergraduates to read profitably the first time around. Teaching them can be just as daunting due to their immense and intimidating scope.
To help both educators and their students, I’m sharing reading/discussion questions for the full year’s set of texts from my Contemporary Civilization class, which I taught at Columbia University for four years. I would circulate these questions to students at the end every class for the subsequent class’ readings. The questions provide them with a rough guide for their reading and with thematic focus. The questions also provide a basis for class discussion.
As I prepped for CC in the summer of 2015, I was struck by the dearth of useful discussion questions available online. This page is my small attempt to improve the situation. I offer these materials freely to be used and adapted by anyone, so long as they are not privatized or used in a for-profit capacity. Please also note that the questions reflect my own and my students’ interests in these texts and the selections we teach in CC. I hope they’re useful!
I also have begun developing a new version of Introduction to Political Theory taking what I call a conceptual literacy approach, and am sharing the work-in-progress materials here.
Plato: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito
Aristotle I: Nicomachean Ethics
Aristotle II: Nicomachean Ethics and Politics
Hebrew Bible: Exodus, Deuteronomy, Job, Ecclesiastes
Christian Scripture: Matthew, Romans, Galatians
Medieval Philosophy: Ibn Tufayl, Hayy ibn Yaqzan; Al-Ghazali, Deliverance from Error or Autobiography
Medieval Philosophy: Thomas Aquinas, On Kingship, Selections from The Summa of Theology, Selections from The Summa Against the Gentiles
Machiavelli II: The Discourses
Martin Luther: Freedom of a Christian Man, On Governmental Authority, Friendly Admonition to Peace (Response to Twelve Articles of the Swabian Peasants)
Descartes: Principles of Philosophy (Preface), Selections from Correspondence with Elisabeth, and Selections from Passions of the Soul.
Locke: Letter on Toleration and Second Treatise of Government
Rousseau I: Discourse on the Origin of Inequality
Rousseau II: The Social Contract
Rousseau III: The Social Contract
Hume I: Enquiry on the Principles of Morals and “Of the Original Contract”
Hume II and Kant I: Enquiry cont’d and Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals Preface and Section 1
Kant II: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals Section 2
Utilitarianism I: Bentham, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation and Fragment on Government
Utilitarianism II: J. S. Mill, Utilitarianism
Revolutions!: Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen; selection from Sieyes, “What is the Third Estate;” Robespierre, “On the Moral and Political Principles of Domestic Policy;” and Bentham, “Anarchical Fallacies.”
Revolutions!: Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
Revolutions!: De Gouges, Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen; Mary Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Mill, Taylor, Stanton, and Truth: Mill and Harriet Taylor, The Subjection of Women; Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Address to the New York Legislature;” Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a Woman?”
Marx: Karl Marx, Selections from “On the Jewish Question;” Selections from Capital; Manifesto of the Communist Party
DuBois: W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk
Nietzsche I: On the Genealogy of Morals
Nietzsche II: On the Genealogy of Morals