This course offers a study in the classic texts of political philosophy, addressing the questions faced by both ancient people and people today: What are the ends of political life? What is the best form of government to serve these ends? What is the proper relation between government and the individual, and between government and religion? To answer these questions we will need to go beyond the surface-level policy discussions that we hear on the news and examine instead the fundamental issues that these policy discussions rest upon. By taking in a broad range of great books, we will also gain some understanding of the long historical development of western political ideas.

We will read: Plato Republic I–V; Aristotle Politics I, III–IV; I Samuel; Tacitus Annals I, XIII–XVI; Aquinas, Summa Theologica I-II QQ. 90–97; Machiavelli, Prince; Hobbes, Leviathan Introduction, 13–21; Shakespeare, Henry IV; Montesquieu Spirit of the Laws Preface, I–VIII; Rousseau, The Social Contract I–II; Locke, Second Essay on Government; Kant The Science of Right Introduction, Second Part; Federalist (selections); Hegel, Philosophy of Right Introduction, III.III; Mill, Representative Government I–VIII, On Liberty.

All the questions we ask in other courses become philosophical questions in the end. To say anything meaningful about anything, we must at least tacitly make assumptions about the relationship between our minds in the world. Is it possible for fallible creatures like ourselves to know anything at all for certain? If we can know, what shape does this knowledge take and how far does it go? When we make claims about reality and think that some of those claims are true and others are false, what must the very structure of reality be? The deeper we go with such questions, the more esoteric they can seem, and yet they also press upon us with greater and greater urgency as we pursue a life of wisdom. This course will survey what has been said about such things by some of the great authors in the western tradition.

We will read: Plato, Republic; Aristotle, Metaphysics I, IV; Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, I–II; Aquinas, Summa Theologica I QQ. XVI–XVII; Montaigne, Essays, “Apology for Raimond de Sebonde”; Descartes, Discourse on Method I–IV; Spinoza, Ethics I; Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, IV.I–IV; Berkeley, The Principles of Human Knowledge; Hume, Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding I–VIII; Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (selections); James, Principles of Psychology Ch. 28.

The ancient epic tradition of Homer stands at the beginning of all western literature. Many centuries later, Virgil self-consciously imitates this beginning in order to do for the Romans what Homer did for the Greeks. These poems tell the tale of larger-than-life heroes on the plain of battle, of gods aiding and foiling the plans of men, of glorious victory and pitiful loss—all in lofty lines of dactylic hexameter. In this course, we will read through the whole of the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid, and we will study both the cultural milieu in which these epics were composed and the later culture that they helped to found.

We will readOdyssey I–V, Odyssey VI–X, Odyssey XI–XIV, Odyssey XV–XX, Odyssey XXI–XXIV, Iliad I–V, Iliad VI–X, Iliad XI–XIV, Iliad XV–XX, Iliad XXI–XXIV, Aeneid I–II, Aeneid III–IV, Aeneid V–VII, Aeneid VIII–X, and Aeneid XI–XII.

The great natural philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “Nature has some perfections to show that she is the image of God, and some defects to show that she is only His image.” In many ways, this profound statement summarizes the findings of scientists throughout history.