I’m working on putting together an anthology of readings in political philosophy.  The book is aimed for use in undergraduate courses and will have both classic (e.g. Locke, Hobbes) and contemporary (e.g. Rawls, Dworkin) sources.  It will contain about 40 readings, and these readings should generally be at a level where they can be accessible (if challenging) to non-philosophy majors (political philosophy courses, in my experience, draw a lot of ‘pre-law’ students who major in something other than philosophy).  What I hope will be distinctive about the collection is its use of ‘non-standard’ readings to illustrate, motivate, and explain certain core ideas.  ‘Non-standard’ readings could come from literature, economics, sociology, psychology, etc.

I was hoping I could exploit PEA Soup readers for a bit of market research.  I’d love to hear what you like and don’t like to use in teaching political philosophy. 

1)      What do you consider ‘must reads’ in a political philosophy course?

2)      What ‘standard’ readings do you consider overrated and dispensable?

3)      Do you have any ‘non-standard’ readings that you like to use in class, or that you’ve thought about using?

Answers to these questions in the comments section would be great.  Even better, if you want to email me your syllabus, I’d love to take a look at it.  Send it to mzwolinski àatß sandiego *dot* edu.


14 Replies to “Readings in Political Philosophy

  1. Matt
    Good project
    I do not teach political philosophy but I hve used the following in my intro to ethics courses:
    Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From A Birmingham Jail. I find that students respond very well to this reading and often find it one of the most valuable of the readings.
    Passages from The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood,and The Kite Runner by Khalad Hossenini. I would also include the two sermons by Paneloux in Camus’ The Plague.
    Good luck

  2. Matt,
    I’ve had students react positively to FDR’s Four Freedoms speech. I’ve also thought that simply having students read Lord of the Flies might be easier than having them try to tackle Hobbes!

  3. Matt,
    I have used Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and Dave Eggers’ What is the What to good effect. I also was happy with the discussion stimulated by the film Born into Brothels, though that is not much help for a textbook, I imagine.

  4. My introduction to philosophy was at age 14 or so, when I came across Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience.
    Does that count? It’s short, it’s historically important (inspiring Gandhi, King and Tolstoy, I understand). It discusses what a government is and should be, so I suppose it sorts under political philosophy.
    It is in my opinion extremely readable.

  5. Are you planning to include any ancient philosophers? I thought the readings in Julia Annas’ Voices of Ancient Philosophy were pretty good, and my introductory ancient philosophy students seemed to enjoy discussing them. It was one of the more popular sections of my course.

  6. thoreau’s “civil disobedience” is a good suggestion… non-standard-wise, foucault could be useful: perhaps the text of the second-half of his debate with noam chomsky, or his ‘what is enlightenment?’, or ‘the body of the condemned’ in discipline and punish, or ‘right of death and power over life’ in history of sexuality, volume 1… or this piece from deleuze: http://www.nadir.org/nadir/archiv/netzkritik/societyofcontrol.html

  7. I recently taught a (Western) history/survey course in political thought and gave my students a couple of handouts on topics we may take for granted but our students know nothing about. For instance, I gave them a list of short, basic readings on value(s), as well as short passages concerning “fact/value” entanglement (Putnam, Sen, Murdoch, etc.). In addition, they had a handout on the nature of utopian thought/imagination, especially important as “utopian” is commonly invoked in a pejorative sense.
    Next time I plan on introducing a bit more of the anarchist tradition, especially William Godwin.
    There’s a whole genre of “green” political writing that has a few gems that might be considered for inclusion.
    Studies of science and technology might be useful as well, as it too tends to get negelected despite its pressing political significance.
    And I see little harm in introducing a few non-Western political thinkers, from Kautilya to Akbar in India, classical Chinese thinkers/traditions, Islamic philosophers with political writings, etc.
    I can send more specific references should you want them.

  8. Matt
    Picking up on the question from Jeremy, I think that you should consider including Plato’s Crito. I have used this in all my course including Ethics in Professional Life. I think it provides a very strong argument regarding the idea of a social contract, promising making and keeping relative to creating and fulfilling obligations, and the form of legitimate disagreement with authority. It also influenced Thoreau Gandhi, and King.

  9. An excellent study of the Crito is Richard Kraut’s Socrates and the State (1984).
    Since several folks have mentioned King, and because Gandhi was of course such a seminal influence on his theory and practice of nonviolence, one might have a look at Raghavan Iyer’s nonpareil study, The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi (1973, 2nd ed., 1983), and Bhikhu Parekh’s Gandhi’s Political Philosophy: A Critical Examination (1989).

  10. Any number of wonderful essays (e.g., ‘The state as a moral agent,’ ‘Laundering preferences,’ ‘Basic income,’ ‘What is so special about our fellow countrymen?,’ ‘International ethics and the environmental crisis’) might be selected from Robert E. Goodin’s Utilitarianism as a Public Philosophy (1995).
    I would also recommend Jon Elster’s “Self-realisation in work and politics: the Marxist conception of the good life,” in Jon Elster and Karl Ove Moene, eds., Alternatives to Capitalism (1989), pp. 127-158.
    Any number of chapters from Martha Nussbaum’s Sex and Social Justice (1999), or her essay, “Poverty and Human Functioning: Capabilities as Fundamental Entitlements,” in David B. Grusky and Ravi Kanbur, eds., Poverty and Equality (2006), pp. 47-75.
    Any of the chapters from G.A. Cohen’s Self-Ownership, Freedom and Equality (1995).
    A chapter or two from Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom (1999).
    One or two chapters from Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. McPherson, eds., Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy (2nd ed., 2006).

  11. Lastly, Amelie Oksenberg Rorty, “Imagination and Power,” in her Mind in Action: Essays in the Philosophy of Mind (1988), pp. 330-345.

  12. Well, I did not think I’d find time to post more material, but…. And all in the “non-standard” category:
    Dale Jamieson’s essay, “The City around Us” in his Morality’s Progress (2002). There are some other possibilities from the second half of the book you might want to look at as well.
    Any one or two chapters from Stanley Cohen’s States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering (2001).
    Any one of several chapters from Robyn M. Dawes’ Everyday Irrationality (2001), but I would recommend Chapter 7, “Good Stories,” pp. 111-140.
    Robert C. Solomon, “Justice v. Vengeance: On Law and the Satisfaction of Emotion,” in Susan A. Bandes, ed., The Passions of Law (1999), pp. 123-148.
    Sudhir Kakar, “A New Hindu Identity,” Chapter 6 from The Colors of Violence: Cultural Identities, Religion, and Conflict (!996), pp. 143-169.
    Victoroff, Jeff. “The Mind of the Terrorist: A Review and Critique of Psychological Approaches,” Journal of Conflict Resolution, February 2005, Vol. 49, No. 1: 3-42.
    Khashan, Hilal. “Collective Palestinian Frustration and Suicide Bombings,” Third World Quarterly, Vol. 24, No. 6, 2003: 1049-1067.
    Hassan, Riaz. “Suicide Attacks: Life as a Weapon,” International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM) Newsletter 14, June 2004: 8-9.
    Gambetta, Diego. “Reason and Terror: Has 9/11 Made it Hard to Think Straight?” Boston Review, April/May 2004. Available: http://bostonreview.net/BR29.2/gambetta.html
    Brooks, Rosa Ehrenreich, “War Everywhere: Human Rights, National Security, and the Law of Armed Conflict in the Age of Terrorism,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Vol. 153, 2004. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=573321 or DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.573321
    Atran, Scott. “Genesis of suicide terrorism,” Science magazine, March 2003, Vol. 299, pp. 1534-1539. Available: http://www.sitemaker.umich.edu/satran/relevant_articles_on_terrorism
    Judith Butler, “No, It’s Not Anti-Semitic,” London Review of Books, Vol. 25, No. 16 (21 August 2003)

  13. I really like William James’ “The Moral Equivalent of War” as a pacifist reply to the claim that solidering is the only way to show political committment.
    Slipping in something on secession and the division of states (Allen Buchanan and Christopher “Kit” Wellman come to mind) would be a nice change.
    And I’ve had more than a few students in courses on political philosophy ask about the ‘philosophical’ form of anarchism, which I know nothing about.

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