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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Christine Di Stefano
POL S 201
Seattle Campus

Introduction to Political Theory

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.

Class description

Description: This course is recommended for students who are exploring the field of political theory for the first time. No prior knowledge of political theory is required, although an interest in the kinds of issues that political theorists study is recommended. Among the recurrent preoccupations of political theorists, questions of justice and legitimacy figure prominently. In this class we will focus on the question of legitimacy. What, if anything, makes some governments worthy of the support of their citizens? Under what conditions do governments forfeit the right to be obeyed by their citizens? Are there conditions under which citizens not only have the right, but the obligation, to disobey their governments? Each of these questions involves the concept of political legitimacy. In this course, we will pursue these and other questions about the legitimacy of governments. We will study a number of different and compelling accounts of legitimacy that have been proposed by some of the major thinkers of Western political theory and American political thought, including Plato, Thomas Jefferson, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, Malcolm X, Emma Goldman, and the Students for a Democratic Society. Several key historical events involving contestations and invocations of political legitimacy—including the American Revolution, the anti-slavery and woman suffrage movements, the civil rights movement and the student movement of the late 1960s—will also be discussed. In addition to learning about major conceptual approaches to legitimacy, students will be encouraged to develop their own thoughtful accounts of political legitimacy, particularly as this bears on contemporary assessments of politics and government in today's world.

Student learning goals

To deepen our understanding of the meaning of political legitimacy--and of the related concept of the obligation of citizens to obey political authorities and laws--through careful study of key texts in the Western and American traditions of political thought.

To enlarge and refine our political vocabulaires, so that we may participate thoughtfully and effectively in political deliberation and debate.

To conduct political dialogue with sympathy, rigor, critical attention, and respect.

To strenghten our command of English prose through careful writing.

General method of instruction

Lecture and guided discussion.

Recommended preparation

Texts: Plato, The Trial and Death of Socrates; Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality; Hobbes, Leviathan; Locke, Second Treatise of Government; plus an assortment of essays from American political thought.

Class assignments and grading

Assignments: Reading and writing skills will receive a great workout in this class. In addition to weekly reading assignments and some quizzes, there will be two exams, one paper (3-5 pages), and occasional short writing assignments.

Grading: Exams: 50 %; Papers: 25 %; Quizzes: 15 %; Other: 10% (assignments related to quiz sections).


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Additional Information
Last Update by Christine Di Stefano
Date: 07/10/2008