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Political Science 240

Introduction to Political Theory

Credits: 3

Length of Course: 14 weeks

Classroom hours per week: 4 hours

Prerequisite: PSCI 100 (Introduction to Political Science) or PSCI 202 (Introduction to Comparative Politics)

Recommended: Any other PSCI 200-level course

Corequisite: English 100

Text: Political Philosophy: The Essential Texts. Steven Cahn. 2010. Oxford University Press.

Course Description:

What is freedom? Are we equal? How do we best live together? How do we know when decisions are just and legitimate? Are our actions a product of ‘slave morality’ or ‘false consciousness’? Is ‘human progress’ a desirable goal? This course invites students to use some of the foremost texts of Western Political Thought to critically examine the contemporary political world along with their own belief and values. By exploring the writings of theorists such as Plato, Machiavelli, Locke, Rousseau, Marx, and Nietzsche, students will gain an understanding of the wide range of different ways that these thinkers have answered these key political questions and, the theoretical principles and frameworks that shape western political ideals, practices and institutions. Further, they will build the analytical skills necessary to effectively engage and evaluate these theoretical perspectives themselves.  

At the end of this course, students will be familiar with key concepts and ideas dealt with in the tradition of western political thought as well as the historical context from which they emerged. They will also be able to use these concepts and ideas to analyze contemporary political problems and to effectively read primary political theory texts. Further, this course will refine and develop students’ analytical writing and speaking skills. Finally, it will also help students to understand, and better engage with, many of the theoretical debates that underwrite contemporary politics.  

Course Outline:

Week 1 Introduction
Week 2 Plato -"Apology" 
Week 3 Plato - "The Republic"
Week 4 Niccolo Machiavelli  - "The Prince" 
Week 5 Thomas Hobbes - "Leviathan"
Week 6 John Locke - "Second Treatise of Government" 
Week 7 Jean-Jacques Rousseau - "Discourse on the Origins of Inequality" 
Week 8 Jean-Jacques Rousseau - "On the Social Contract" 
Week 9

Mary Wollstonecraft - "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" 

Week 10 John Stuart Mill - "On Liberty" 
Week 11 Karl Marx - "The Communist Manifesto" 
Week 12 Friedrich Nietzsche - "On the Geneology of Morality" 
Week 13 Friedrich Nietzsche  - "On the Geneology of Morality" Part II and Conclusion  
Week 14 Final Exam


Participation 10%
Assignments 30%
Project 10%
Midterm 20%
Final Examination



Matt Wadsworth, PhD (ABD); MPA

Transferability: see