Social & Political Philosophy Essay Prompts & Topics

french revolution painting chargeFor each of your response essays, write an argument of the required length, typed and double spaced with standard fonts and margins, focused on a single idea or issue, clearly stating your position at the beginning and then using evidence and reasoning to support your position.

You are welcome to use your own life experience, current events, historical examples, or examples from fiction to support your argument.

You are welcome to use your own life experience, current events, historical examples, or examples from fiction.  You can also cite material we study or from outside the class by stating the Title of the Work in Italics, and the authors name.  You do not need to include a bibliography.

Please attach your essay to an email and send it to by the due date on the syllabus.  I prefer email attachments, but I will also accept printed copies by hand or in my box at BCC.

1st Response Essay Topics

mozi-and-a-confucian1) The two major Confucians after Confucius, Mencius and Xunzi, agree that Confucius’ teachings are wise and that we should cultivate ourselves through education and participating in society.  However, they completely disagree on whether human nature is good or evil.  Mencius argues that human nature is good, and education expands what we originally are.  Xunzi argues that human nature is evil, and society is necessary to change us from what we originally are.  Who do you find yourself agreeing with more, and why?

Plato and Aristotle2) Mozi argues for universal love versus the Confucians such as Mencius who argue that love is naturally varied depending on familiarity. Are the two positions compatible? Is one more favorable than the other?

3) Plato and Aristotle both argue that we should have a meritocracy and elevate those who are more skilled and intelligent into a ruling class.  Given that we want leaders and expert opinions but also must avoid abuses of power, how should authority and expertise be utilized such that it does not become abusive?

2nd Response Essay Topics


1)Machiavelli argues that holding power requires the use of deception and violence.  Is this necessarily true, and what does it tell us about how we do or should deal with power and violence?  Is violence justified or necessary to maintain power, and if so, is this inevitable?


2) Hobbes argues that the sovereign must be given unchecked power through the social contract to prevent partisan conflict, while Locke argues that there must be checks against the power of the sovereign to prevent violation of the social contract.  Does unchecked power have a proper place in our lives, either for those in positions of power or for the common individual?


3) Hobbes argues that in the state of nature, before the social contract, life is nasty, brutish and short, while Rousseau argues that in the state of nature we were noble savages.  What do human cultures teach us about violence, safety and civilization, and what does this mean for modern society?

4) The American and French revolutions show us similar examples of abuse of power followed by response to that abuse of power.  Given the theories of one or more of the thinkers we have covered so far, what do these examples tell us about how power works and whether or not it changes over time.

3rd Response Essay Topics

soviet_propaganda posterFor the third and final essay, write a six to ten page paper on a debate between two positions which we covered in class.  Possibilities include:

Bentham vs Mill on Utilitarianism

Locke vs Thoreau on Property

Capitalism vs Socialism on unplanned & planned economies

Socialism/Communism’s top-down vs Anarchism’s bottom-up organization

Cultural unity vs multicultural plurality

The advantages & disadvantages of violent & nonviolent resistance & revolution


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