William J. Talbott
Examination of major political philosophies from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century, with attention to the underlying philosophical methods and foundations.
What is called "modern" philosophy is not very modern. It begins in the 16th century and extends to the 19th century. We will study some of the most influential political philosophers by following the development of several themes in their work: (1)consent. Before the modern period, government legitimacy was typically thought to depend on divine endorsement or historical precedent, but not on the consent of the governed. The idea that government legitimacy depends on some sort of actual or hypothetical consent is a "modern" idea. (2)individual rights. This new idea of consent-based legitimacy was part of a new conception of individuals as bearers of rights--rights even their rulers were morally bound to respect. In this course, we study those philosophers in the modern period who were most important in the gradual development of a rights-based political theory and those who were most persuasive in opposing it. (3)historical progress. Great political changes occurred in the modern period. Attempts to make sense of these changes led to the development of theories of historical progress. (4)epistemology. Also typical of the modern period is a rationalist epistemology, in which knowledge is taken to be the infallible product of an individual mind that directly discerns the truth. We will see the beginnings a new epistemology for moral and political theory in which knowledge is taken to be the product of a social-historical process. We will read from the works of Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Rousseau, Smith, Kant, Burke, Tocqueville, Hegel, and Marx. There will be a Midterm and a Final Exam. Each exam will have an in-class portion and a take-home portion. In addition, there will be a short written assignment for each class. Prerequisites: At least one course in philosophy. No freshmen
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