Babylonian Boundary StonePHIL 2, Spring 2017, Class Code: 21172

Mon/Wed 9 – 10:15 AM, Room: BCC 52

Instructor: Eric Gerlach – email:

Office Hours: Fridays 12 – 1:30 PM @ K’s Coffee, next to BCC

Course Description: This course introduces students to the history of Social and Political Philosophy.  We will study ancient and modern thinkers on the subjects of human nature, social class, authority, liberty, capitalism, socialism, communism, anarchism, fascism, post-colonialism, and feminism.

Texts: The readings for each lecture will be posted in the lecture notes or distributed via email list a week before we cover each topic.

Assignments: Two 4 page essays (2 x 25%) & a final 8 page paper (50%), typed, double-spaced and emailed to  Focus on an issue we cover, clearly state and argue for your position with evidence, empathy, and examples from your life, history or fiction.


Jan 23 – Introduction

Jan 25 & 30 – Tribal & City State Politics

Feb 1 & 6 – The Analects of Confucius

Feb 8 & 13 – Plato’s Republic

Feb 15 & 22 – Aristotle – 1st Paper Assigned Feb 22

Feb 27 & Mar 1 – Machiavelli – 1st Paper Due Mar 1

Mar 6 & 8 – Hobbes’ Leviathan

Mar 13 & 15 – Locke’s Second Treatise of Government

Mar 20 & 22 – Rousseau – 2nd Paper Assigned Mar 22

Mar 27 & 29 – Mill’s On Liberty

Apr 3 & 5 – Thoreau – 2nd Paper Due Apr 5

Apr 10 & 12 – No Class – Spring Break

Apr 17 & 19 – Engel’s Socialism: Utopian & Scientific

Apr 24 & 26 – Marx & Engels – Final Paper Assigned Apr 26

May 1 & 3 – Marcuse’s Reason & Revolution

May 8 & 9 – Bakunin’s God & the State

May 15 & 17 – Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman

May 22 & 24 – Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth – Final Paper Due May 28

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

Student Learning Outcomes:  Upon completing this class, students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate an understanding of the concepts of major philosophers.

2. Analyze and evaluate philosophical positions through argument that displays individual perspective.

General Student Requirements: Students are expected to come to class prepared to ask questions and participate in discussions. All readings and assignments should be completed by the beginning of class on the day they are listed here. This class is run as a lecture/discussion course.  Students are responsible for all class material (even if they miss class). If you miss class, it is strongly advised that you ask a classmate for notes. It is your responsibility to ask if you missed something; it is not the instructor’s responsibility to remind you. Please read through the syllabus and plan ahead.

Plagiarism, “to use another person’s ideas or expressions in your writing without acknowledging the source” (MLA Handbook,  5th ed., §1.8)—will not be tolerated. Plagiarists, intentional or inadvertent, will receive a zero on the assignment in question; repeat offenders will get an F for the course and will be subject to college disciplinary action. Students are encouraged to review plagiarism policies in the current catalog.

Disabled Student Program and Services (DSPS) are provided for any enrolled student who has a verified disability that creates an educational limitation that prevents the student from fully benefiting from classes without additional support services or instruction. Please let the instructor know if you require any support services or would like more information about DSPS.

This syllabus is subject to change at the discretion of the instructor. Any changes will be announced in class. Additional handouts of required readings may also be added.

1) Tribal & City State Politics

2) Mencius, Xunzi & Mozi on Human Nature

3) Plato’s Republic


4) Aristotle’s Politics

5) Machiavelli’s Prince

6) Hobbes’ Leviathan

7) Locke’s Second Treatise of Government

8) Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality


9) Mill’s On Liberty

10) Thoreau’s On the Duty of Civil Disobedience

11) Engel’s Socialism, Utopian & Scientific

12) Marx & Engel’s Communist Manifesto


13) Marcuse’s Reason & Revolution

14) Bakunin’s God & The State

15) Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman

16) Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth