POL S 201 A: Introduction To Political Theory

Meeting Time: 
MWF 9:30am - 10:20am
GWN 301
Jamie Mayerfeld

Syllabus Description:


Added May 17: Please read these additional pages from Rawls' Theory of Justice.


University of Washington, Spring 2017

Instructor: Professor Jamie Mayerfeld                                    Lecture:
Office: Gowen 35                                                                      Gowen 301
Office Hours: Tue. 1:30-3:00, Fri. 10:30-11:30                      MWF 9:30-10:20

TAs: Mathieu Dubeau and David Lucas

Overview: This course examines a selection of classic and contemporary texts in political theory, from the seventeenth century to the present day. Although these works were produced in different historical contexts, they address a common set of problems and controversies. A central theme of the course will be equality. The thinkers we study are all committed to equality, but they interpret it very differently. We will therefore ask: What is equality, and what social and political arrangements does it require? We will also examine the interconnected themes of legitimacy, freedom, and justice. What, if anything, entitles government to our support? What does it mean to be free, and what social and political obstacles stand in freedom’s way? What is justice, and what are our obligations to promote justice?

The thinkers we study share surprisingly little agreement in their answers to these questions. Your objective in the course is to understand and critically evaluate their arguments, and to reach your own reasoned positions on the issues they raise.

Student Requirements: You are required to complete the assigned readings on time and to discuss them in quiz sections. Your understanding of the readings will be tested in two essays, a final exam, and the quality of your participation in section.

Readings will be drawn from six books, on sale at the University Book Store, and a course packet, on sale at EZ Copy N Print, 4336 University Way NE. All readings will be available on reserve at Odegaard Undergraduate Library. The six books are:

John Locke, Second Treatise of Government
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract
Karl Marx, Selected Writings (Hackett ed.)
John Stuart Mill, On Liberty
W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk
Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia

The course packet contains readings by Karl Marx, Booker T. Washington, John Rawls, and Susan Moller Okin.

Evaluation: Your grade for the course will be calculated as follows:

  • 4-5 page essay, due Thursday, April 20                                30%
  • 4-5 page essay, due Thursday, May 18                                 30%
  • Final Exam, Wed. June 7, 8:30-10:20 am                              25%
  • participation in quiz section                                                  15% 

Essay topics will be distributed approximately two weeks before the due dates.

Maintaining a Respectful Learning Environment:

Engagement with people from diverse backgrounds, embodiments and experiences is essential to critical thinking and at the heart of university education. Students and faculty at UW are expected to:

  • respect individual differences which may include, but are not limited to: age, cultural background, disability, ethnicity, family status, immigration status, national origin, race, religion, gender presentation, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and veteran status.
  • engage respectfully in discussion of diverse worldviews and ideologies embedded in course readings, presentations and discussion, including course materials that are at odd with personal beliefs and values.

Students seeking support or information regarding these issues can find resources at https://www.washington.edu/diversity/.

This course will lead us into discussion of controversial social and political topics. It is important for discussion be open to a wide range of perspectives and for everyone to feel comfortable about participating. Learning will be facilitated if all class participants work to engage in class discussions with respect and empathy for one another. Contradictory views are encouraged, and can contribute to learning as long as everyone remains open to new information and willing to learn from people with different perspectives and life experiences. It is essential to avoid inflammatory, derogatory and insulting words and personal attacks. Such conduct inhibits learning and prevents the free exchange of ideas.

Disability and Learning: Your experience in this class is important, and the instructors are committed to maintaining an inclusive and accessible learning environment. If you experience barriers based on disability, please seek a meeting with Disability Resources for Student (DRS) to discuss and address your concerns. If you have established accommodations with DRS, please communicate your approved accommodation to the relevant instructor(s) at your earliest convenience so we can accommodate your needs. DRS offers resources and coordinates reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities. You can contact DRS at uwdrs@uw.edu, 011 Mary Gates Hall, 543-8924 (voice); 543-8925 (TDD). http://depts.washington.edu/uwdrs/.

Academic Integrity: Cheating and plagiarism are offenses against academic integrity and are subject to disciplinary action by the University. Plagiarism is copying someone else’s work and presenting it as your own (by not attributing it to its true source). If you are uncertain what constitutes plagiarism, please ask me.


(Indented lines give due dates for reading assignments.)
I reserve the right to alter reading assignments during the term.


March 27: Introduction

Tue. March 28: First meeting of quiz sections

March 29-April 6: John Locke

Thur. March 30: Second Treatise of Government, chapters 1-4
Tue. April 4: Second Treatise of Government, chapter 5                
Thur. April 6: Second Treatise of Government, chapters 6-12, 15-19

April 7-April 14: Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Tue. April 11: Social Contract, Books I and II
Thur. April 13: Social Contract, Book III, chapters 1-6, 10-18; Book IV chapters 1-3, 8-9

April 17-May 25: Karl Marx

Tue. April 18: “Alienated Labor” (pages 58-68 in Hackett anthology) and “The Meaning of Human            
     Requirements,” in course packet
Thur. April 20: “On the Jewish Question” (pages 2-21 in Hackett anthology)

                        *** First essay due today***           

 Tue. April 25: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (pages 157-86 in Hackett

April 26-May 5: John Stuart Mill

Thur. April 27: On Liberty, chapter 1
Tue. May 2: On Liberty, chapter 2
Thur. May 3: On Liberty, chapter 3

May 8-12: W. E. B. Du Bois

Tue. May 9: The Souls of Black Folk, chapters 1-4. Before reading chapter 3, please read Booker T.
     Washington, “Atlanta Exposition Address,” in the course packet.
Thur. May 9: The Souls of Black Folk, chapters 11, 13, 14

May 15-19: John Rawls

Tue. May 16: A Theory of Justice, pp. 3-24, 52-56, 266-67, 78-81, 86-93, in course packet
Thur. May 18: A Theory of Justice, pp. 118-35, in course packet 

    *** Second essay due today***        

May 22-25: Robert Nozick

Tue. May 23: Anarchy, State, and Utopia, pp. xix-xxiv, 10-17, 26-35, 42-45, 48-51
Thur. May 25: Anarchy State, and Utopia, pp. 149-64, 167-82

May 26-June 1: Susan Moller Okin

Tue. May 30: “Vulnerability by Marriage,” in course packet
Thur. June 1: Continued discussion of Okin, “Vulnerability by Marriage”
Friday, June 2: Course wrap-up.

Final Exam, Wednesday, June 7, 8:30-10:20,

Catalog Description: 
Philosophical bases of politics and political activity. Provides an introduction to the study of politics by the reading of books in political philosophy. Organized around several key political concepts, such as liberty, equality, justice, authority, rights, and citizenship. Offered: AWSpS.
Department Requirements: 
Introductory Courses
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:32pm