Political Philosophy

Political Philosophy

Foundations of European Modernity: Shaping the “Republic of letters”


INSTRUCTOR: Dr. Cătălin Avramescu

PERSONAL WEBPAGE: web.mac.com/avramescu

COURSE DESCRIPTION: This is a course for the second- and third-year students designed to be an introduction to the main topics in Political Philosophy. Most classical syllabi propose a representative selection from the major authors, such as the famous “from Plato to NATO” set. Others are oriented thematically, with bits of texts from a number of authors being probed in order to create an image of the main arguments relevant to a particular topic. Here, however, we will follow a different path. Though we will often refer to contemporary political philosophers such as Rawls, Nozick or Foucault, the course will focus on a crucial period in the formation of our contemporary political experience and values, namely, the early modern period (17th and 18th centuries).

This course is a part of the CDC 2007 grant entitled Shaping the Republic of Letters: Science, philosophy and religion in Early Modern Europe. See details concerning the grant at


The general aim of the course is to show how most the major concepts and ideas of modern and contemporary philosophy emerged as results of the philosophical, theological and political debates taking place in the 17th and 18th century. The course will focus on less known texts and their intellectual contexts, with an eye on the exchange of ideas taking place at the origins of modernity.

COURSE OBJECTIVES: A. To allow the student to achieve an understanding of some of the most important issues and theories in Political Philosophy. B. To present an overview of the development of Political Philosophy in the Modern Age. C. To encourage students to think critically and clearly.

GENERAL BIBLIOGRAPHY: History of Political Philosophy (eds. Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey).

EDITIONS AND BIBLIOGRAPHICAL INDICATIONS: Most of the texts of the authors we will discuss are readily available in a in the department’s library, or on the internet, in the public domain. There are no indications of page numbers, as the students are expected to be capable to independently identify and to follow the relevant arguments. A CD-ROM with facsimile texts will be made available in class. Many facsimile texts could be found at Gallica virtual library: www.bnf.fr. Another good source of texts is the Online Library of Liberty. There is a sizeable collection of useful texts at www.constitution.org

More bibliographical indications, some related texts and themes may be found on the web-page of our project, at http://modernthought.unibuc.ro/En/2007/09/course-cdc-anouncement_25.html. The students can also find there the syllabus of the relating courses taught within our project and interact with students from other faculties involved in the explorations of early modernity.

COURSE/SEMINAR REQUIREMENTS AND EVALUATION: The course covers two out of the available three hours and the rest would be reserved for discussions and clarifications of the materials previously presented. It is necessary that students read in advance the texts. The activity in the seminar would not be taken into consideration as it is only one means among other for the students to assimilate the information. There will be a final viva voce examination. In addition to that, the students will be required to write three short essays (around 5 pages) on topics that will be announced one week in advance.

Week 1


Talking points: Who developed the modern notion of “sovereignty”? What other similar terms were in use in early modern political thought? Is this a primarily juridical or a political concept?


Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Second Part: Of Commonwealth, especially chapters 17 and 18)

Leo Strauss, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: its Basis and Genesis

Week 2


Talking points: What is the difference between a citizen and a subject? What is the role of the social contract? What is popular sovereignty?


Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract (Book II, especially chapters 9 and 10)

Judith N. Shklar, Men and citizens: a study of Rousseau\’s social theory

Week 3

Liberal Education

Talking points: What is the role of education in the formation of a citizen? Which are the alternatives to a liberal education? Should education be compulsory?


George Turnbull, Observation upon Liberal Education (Part III: An Essay upon Liberal Education)

Alan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (especially Part II: Nihilism, American Style)

Week 4


Talking points: Which are the sources of the modern theory of virtue? How is this theory distinct from utilitarianism? Which are the main virtues that are necessary in a modern society?


David Hume, Enquiry concerning the Principle of Morals (Section One: Of the General Principles of Morals and Section Two: Of Benevolence).

Peter Jones, Hume’s Sentiments

Week 5


Talking points: Is the right to property natural? Is there a difference in nature between public and private property? Should the right to property override other rights?


John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (Book II, chapters 1 and 5)

C. B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke

Week 6


Talking points: When has equality became an important political value? What species of equality are there? Does belief in equality results in levelling of useful social distinctions?


Denis Diderot, Supplément au voyage de Bougainville

Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia (especially chapters 1, 2 and 3)

Week 7


Talking points: What arguments were advanced to support inequality of sexes? Is gender equality fundamentally good? Should modern democracies recognize the need for affirmative action in order to promote gender equality?


Condorcet, On the Admission of Women to the Rights of Citizenship

Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

Week 8


Talking points: Is there a specifically modern belief in progress? Is progress inevitable? Is there a cost of progress?


Adam Ferguson, An Essay on the History of Civil Society (especially Part 2 Of The History of Rude Nations, and Part 5 Of the Decline of Nations)

Karl Popper, The Poverty of Historicism

Week 9

Ideal Society

Talking points: Is there a specifically modern form of utopianism? What is the difference between utopian and exemplary constitutions? Are utopias inherently optimistic?


James Harrington, Oceana (especially Part III, The Model of the Commonwealth of Oceana)

Frank Manuel & Fritzie Manuel, Utopianism in the Western World

Week 10

The Aesthetic State

Talking points: Is Beauty a necessary dimension of Justice? What is the political function of Art? Could and should ideology be separated from the realm of the aesthetic?


Shaftesbury, Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (especially Inquiry Concerning Virtue and Merit)

Joseph Chytry, The Aesthetic State. A Quest in Modern German Thought

Week 11


Talking points: What difference there is between classical and modern republicanism? Has republicanism vanished as a political ideology? What difference there is between liberalism and republicanism?


John Adams, Thoughts on Government

Paul Rahe, Republicanism, Ancient and Modern

Week 12


Talking points: Are the roots of peace theories theological or secular? Is peace a supreme political value? Are democracies more or less likely to engage in war?


William Penn, An Essay towards the Present and Future Peace of Europe

Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man

Nota bene:

The first meeting of the class will take place Thursday, 11 October 2007.

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