Yep, we're two weeks into the semester now. However, if you're just joining us, please go to my syllabi page and download the syllabus (updated on the website when things change), the notes on assignments, and eventually, the portfolio how-to guide.
If you missed my introductory lecture, here are my notes, slightly edited. This gives you an idea of why we're here and what I hope to accomplish:
Things to discuss:
Who am I?
--native MD, TX transplant, back home
--love to teach!
--Machiavelli and Madison scholar
--public school kid, excited to see how this is different
Questions? (Reasonable ones J)
Why this class/why is it this way?
I’m a blend of approaches—some of my teachers only wanted to read text, some were obsessed with context over text. Philosophy of politics—and I will use theory and philosophy interchangeably—are heavy on persuasion, rhetoric, and argument. In short, studying political philosophy requires heavy attention to details of argument and persuasive powers.
BUT it’s really hard to combine the two? Can anyone think of any career politician alive who does both? Charisma and wonkishness are difficult to combine.
That’s not to say it doesn’t happen—Lincoln, Churchill—Pericles, who we’ll meet this week—but it is also important to notice that we appreciate these men (and women—though even for me it’s hard to think of someone we’d put in this league in politics…) more when they’re dead…probably because they convinced us and became heroes.
So, because good politicians are hard to find and good governments hard to keep, political philosophy started up. We’re doing a “Plato to NATO” course here, but I think that’s good. Even if you’re not interested in theory ultimately, this gives you a great background.
This course is divided into four sections—ancient, medieval, modern, contemporary. Some of this is arbitrary, but the way it goes in this course is this: ancient is Greeks, medieval starts with monotheism, Machiavelli kicks off modernity, somewhere around Nietzsche and the 20th century contemporary starts.
I won’t do much contemporary here. Why? I really don’t think you can understand a contemporary rejection of Plato without reading Plato first. It’s hard to read Plato alone. Really, it’s hard to read any of this alone. So your contemporary will mostly consist of variations on themes that we’ve already covered.
Why no women?? I know. I really know. Unfortunately, there’s not much until recently. Fortunately, that will change. The same is true (in Western thought) for non-white men. Makes me nutsy, but I don’t know a way around it.
This course aims to cover a variety of themes, and we will focus on themes every day.
Constitutionalism gets more airtime because that’s what I do (take out pocket Constitution) and because without a good political order philosophy can’t have much of an effect. I think we’d all rather discuss American constitutionalism rather than Spartan constitutionalism in ancient Greece, given that none of us in the room (I’m guessing) read Ancient Greek (if there are, I’m in awe) and we don’t have access to much there.
My goals for this course:
--Give you a basic understanding of history of Western political philosophy
--Give you tools to dissect arguments (see portfolio work) so that we’re not at sea here and for your future academic success
--Have good discussions about this and learn things myself
I hope to convince you as your teacher that…
…philosophy and politics need each other to function.
…precise argumentation and rhetoric should be friends.
…there is a serious difference between mere and substantiated opinion, and that you should only use the latter.
…reading “the classics” with the right tools is satisfying.