Course Overview: Western Political Thought – Political Science 201






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Purpose of Course:

Political thought, or political philosophy, is the study of questions concerning power, justice, rights, law, and other issues pertaining to governance. Whereas political science assumes that these concepts are what they are, political thought asks how they have come about and to what effect. Just as Socrates’ simple question “How should we be governed?” led to his execution, the question “What makes a government legitimate?” leads to political turmoil when posed at critical times. Political thought asks what form government should take and why; what duties citizens owe to a legitimate government, if any; and when it may be legitimately overthrown, if ever. Generally speaking, political thought, political philosophy, and political theory are terms often used interchangeably to mean the study of philosophical texts related to politics.

This course examines major texts in the history of political thought. Many of these texts pose difficult questions concerning the political community, social order, and human nature. This course also asks how different views on human nature and the uses of history inform the design of government. It also considers the ways in which thinkers like Plato, Machiavelli, and Rousseau have responded to the political problems of their times, and the ways in which they contribute to a broader conversation about human goods and needs, justice, democracy, and the ever-changing relationship between the citizen and the state. One of our central aims in this course will be to gain a critical perspective on our times by evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of various regimes and philosophical approaches. We will also work to better understand those assumptions and basic concepts that define the field of political science.

Each of the three units that comprise this course is devoted to a broad theme central to understanding politics. The first unit, centered upon the texts of Plato and Aristotle, will address the polis, or political community. The second unit, featuring the work of John Locke, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Thomas Hobbes, will explore the modern state and constitutional government. The third unit, introducing the texts of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Alexis de Tocqueville, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels, will focus on democracy and the critique of liberal ideology. You will find that these political philosophies have shaped various forms of government, from tyranny to republican democracy and welfare states.

This video is part of POLSC201 as part of our Western Political Thought area of study on http://www.saylor.org

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/ ), however, some of the assets may carry their own licenses.

“Aristotle” is attributed to Lysippos and is in the public domain. The original can be found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aristotle_Altemps_Inv8575.jpg

“Plato” is attibuted to Lufke and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license. The original can be found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Platón_Academia_de_Atenas.png

“Socrates” is attributed to Qbricard and is in the public domain. The original can be found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:1983_-_Socrate.jpg

“Niccolo Machiavelli” is attributed to Frieda and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. the original can be found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Niccolo_Machiavelli_uffizi.jpg

“Hobbes” is attributed to John Michael Wright and is in the public domain. The original can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Hobbes_(portrait).jpg

“Locke” is attributed to Philip Halling and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. The original can be found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Temple_of_British_Worthies_John_Locke.jpg

“Rosseau” is attributed to Jastrow and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license. The original can be found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rousseau_cour_Napoleon_Louvre.jpg

“Tocqueville” is a faithful photographic reproduction of an original two-dimensional work of art and is in the public domain. The original can be found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alexis_de_tocqueville.jpg

“Marx” is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. The original can be found at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Marx_monument_karlsbad.jpg

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