PHIL 119
Why Obey the Law? Spring 2025 (also offered Fall 2024)
Division II Writing Skills

Class Details

What social and political arrangements are most conducive to fostering human well-being and the common good? What makes governmental authority legitimate? A foundation in reason and morality? Popular sovereignty? Does might make right? We turn first to two of Plato’s most famous dialogues,The Apology and The Republic in which we encounter Socrates’ trial for impiety and corrupting the youth, and, Socrates effort to defeat an argument that might makes right, that only the weak agree to obey the law, by envisioning an ideal (non-democratic) city-state ruled by benevolent philosopher-kings. The rest of the course is devoted to figures in the history of modern political philosophy, both defenders and critics of democratic liberalism (egs., Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Marx, J.S. Mill, Nietzsche, W.E.B Dubois, etc.). We conclude with contemporary reflections on the fate of democracy today.
The Class: Format: seminar; Class participation will involve individual and group activities meant to give you practice in thinking quickly, working with others, and building arguments.
Limit: 19
Expected: 19
Class#: 3515
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: Six pass/fail short response essays of approximately 500 words each in which students write about a particular part of the assigned text (such as explaining what a passage means, drawing connections between different parts of the text, identifying an argument, responding to an argument, etc); two 5-page papers based on prompts; participation.
Prerequisites: None. Open to any student interested in the sources of our current understandings of government, the basis of its authority, and strengths and weaknesses of democracy.
Enrollment Preferences: Majors, first years, and sophomores will normally receive preference if the course over enrolls.
Unit Notes: meets 100-level Phil major requirement
Distributions: Division II Writing Skills
WS Notes: The professor and the teaching assistant will provide detailed comments on short and longer essays and provide occasional peer review opportunities, handouts and discussions of frequent types of errors, different approaches to writing and drafting, and the importance of editing and seeking the help of writing tutors. I encourage, but do not require, that students make appointments to discuss ideas and drafts with the TA or me.
Attributes: JLST Interdepartmental Electives
LEAD Ethical Issues of Leadership

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