Jason F Lambacher
POL S 201
Philosophical bases of politics and political activity. Provides an introduction to the study of politics by the reading of a few books in political philosophy. Organized around several key political concepts, such as liberty, equality, justice, authority, rights, and citizenship. Offered: AWSpS.
This course is a survey introduction to some major texts in (primarily Western) political theory from the ancient to the modern period. No prior experience is required, although an interest in politics and curiosity about political ideas is highly recommended. Political theory is an ancient intellectual enterprise that, like most disciplines, was once a branch of philosophy. In contemporary times (and in the United States) it is classified as one of the four major sub-fields of Political Science. An effective definition of political theory is that it is characterized by thoughtful reflection on the political, social, and moral ideas that guide how political life ought to be understood and organized. A helpful way to think about the methodology of political theory is to distinguish between descriptive and prescriptive studies of politics. Descriptive approaches describe political events, institutions, or phenomena and seek to offer the explanations as to why they exist or how they change. Prescriptive (sometimes called normative) accounts of politics not only give us a depiction of what is, but also prescribe values and principles for how politics ought to be understood, organized, or altered. In other words, political theory focuses on the way the world should be and not just on the way it is. The prescriptive/normative orientation of political theory can further be broken down into mainstream and critical dimensions. Mainstream approaches tend to justify the present political order by arguing that the values that animate political life are as they ought to be. Critical approaches, on the other hand, tend argue that political institutions and culture ought to be changed, sometimes radically so. We will engage political ideas on both levels and challenge our understanding of the political world as it is and ought to be.
Student learning goals
Critically read classic texts in political theory. Write persuasive essays. Practice the art of questioning. Engage others in vigorous discussion.
General method of instruction
Lecture and discussion.
Class assignments and grading
Papers, short writing assignments, exams.
Writing and participation in discussion.