Associate Professor Northeastern University


Fall 2012 || Level 1 Semester 1 Module 2011/2012

Monday 11:00 AM – 12:00 Noon

Location TBA

My office: Room 2.07, 3 Cavendish Road

Office Hours: Tuesday 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM, Wednesday 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM (or by appointment)


This course investigates the foundations and justifications of political societies, and explores accounts of what form political societies ought to take, as well as some of the fundamental concepts associated with political societies, such as freedom, property, authority, individual rights, and justice.  We shall read almost exclusively ancient and modern primary texts.  The main questions we shall address are:

  • What can justify the state? 
  • What is the best form of government?
  • What could justify political obligation? 
  • When is resistance and rebellion justified, if ever? 
  • What is the relationship between liberty and equality?


The student who completes this course will have basic mastery of key elements of the Western canon of political philosophy.  Because this is an introductory course in philosophy, the student who completes this course will also have developed the basic skills of contemporary philosophy.  These skills are:

  • Reconstructing arguments
  • Formulating valid arguments
  • Critically engaging opponents’ arguments
  • Developing and defending your own philosophical point of view


All readings will be found either in Michael Morgan, ed., Classics in Moral and Political Philosophy or as individual PDFs on this webpage.



You will be writing two essays, a midterm and a final.

Grading Standards

An “A” grade is given only for excellent work, a “B” grade only for “good” work, a “C” grade only for average work, and so on. 

But what counts as excellent work? 

Because this is an introductory class, to produce excellent work students need not demonstrate full mastery of the material and the philosophical method.  Rather, to produce excellent work (for the purposesof grading in this class), students must demonstrate basic comprehension of the philosophical material and a basic facility with the philosophical method.  As the semester goes on, the standard for “basic facility with the philosophical method” becomes tougher.  For example, early on in the semester, the simplest forms of reconstructing and objecting to an argument will be su

fficient for excellent work.  But, by the end of the semester this is necessary but not sufficient for merely good work (i.e., what was sufficient for an “A” at the beginning of the semester will be merely necessary for a “B” by the end of the semester).  In this way, this course is graded like a mathematics class: you are expected to acquire skills and build on those skills as the course progresses.

Excellent class attendance and regular participation in discussion will positively affect your final grade.

TOPICS AND READINGS (**Additional readings may be added to and some readings may be removed from the syllabus as we proceed.**)

Readings marked with an asterisk (*) are available for download on this page.  All other readings are in Morgan.

Sep 24 — Course Introduction

No reading

Oct 1 —Aristotle

Politics, Book II.1 - 5

Politics, Book III, Book IV.1 – 14, V.1

Oct 8 — The State of Nature: Thomas Hobbes

Leviathan, chapters 6, 13 – 15

Oct 15 — The State: Thomas Hobbes

Leviathan, chapters 16 – 18, 21, 26, 29

Oct 22 — Natural Rights: John Locke

Second Treatise on Government, sections 1 – 24

*Frederick Douglass, “Is It Right and Wise to Kill a Kidnapper?”

*Second Treatise on Government, sections 25 – 51

*Jeremy Waldron, “Two Worries About Mixing One’s Labor”

Oct 29 — Consent: John Locke

Second Treatise on Government, sections 77 – 142

*David Hume, “Of the Original Contract”

Nov 5 — Resistance: John Locke

Second Treatise on Government, sections 211 – 243

*Martin Luther King, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

Nov 12 — Inequality and Culture: Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, Part 2

Nov 19 — Jean-Jacques Rousseau

The Social Contract, Book 1 – 3

Nov 26 — Critique: Karl Marx and Freedom

*The Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen

Karl Marx, “On the Jewish Question”

Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto (w/ Frederick Engels)

*G.A. Cohen, “The Structure of Proletarian Unfreedom”

Dec 3 — Distributive Justice

John Rawls, Theory of Justice, selections

Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State & Utopia, selections

G.A. Cohen, "Robert Nozick and Wilt Chamberlain: How Patterns Preserve Liberty"