POL S 201 A: Introduction to Political Theory

Summer Term: 
Meeting Time: 
MW 12:00pm - 2:10pm
SAV 131
Jennifer Driscoll
W course

Syllabus Description:

POLS 201: Introduction to Political Theory

University of Washington, Summer 2019

MW 12-2:10pm, Savery 131


Instructor: Jennifer Driscoll

Office: Gowen 42

Office hours: W 9:45-11:45am or by appointment

Email: driscja@uw.edu


Freedom, Responsibility, and Justice

What does our society owe to us, and what do we owe to it? To what extent are we, and can we be, free? How should we balance freedom with justice and the responsibilities of political membership, social life, and global coexistence? This course offers a survey of major works in Western political theory and American political thought that is designed to foster critical inquiry into the nature of freedom, the demands of justice, and the extent of our responsibility to our country, to one another, to people beyond our borders, and to our planet. We will consider several contemporary problems that illustrate the competing demands of freedom, responsibility, and justice, such as immigration, income inequality, racial justice, gender justice, and climate change.


Student learning objectives:

  • to deepen our understanding of the meanings of justice, freedom, and responsibility through careful study of key texts in the American and Western traditions of political thought
  • to enlarge and refine our political vocabularies, so that we may participate thoughtfully and effectively in political deliberation and debates
  • to understand the difference between “opinion” and “judgment,” so that we may we may conduct political dialogue with sympathy, rigor, critical attention, and respect
  • to strengthen our command of English prose through careful reading and writing


Required texts:

These texts are available for purchase at the University Book Store. I have chosen the least expensive editions of these books in order to improve access for everyone. Please note that if you choose not to buy the assigned editions, you are taking on an extra responsibility to ensure the quality of the versions you select. You may also have difficulty finding specific passages in the texts during our discussions.


Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (Hackett Publishing)

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (Dover Thrift Editions)

Karl Marx, Selected Writings (Hackett Publishing)

John Locke, The Second Treatise of Government & A Letter Concerning Toleration (Dover Thrift Editions)

W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Dover Thrift Editions)

*All other readings will be available as PDFs on the Canvas course page.


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

  • Essay 1 Intro and Outline ---- 10%
  • Essay 1 (5-6 pages) ---- 25%
  • Essay 2 Intro and Outline ---- 10%
  • Essay 2 (5-6 pages) ---- 25%
  • Participation, Short Writing Assignments, and other In-Class Activities ---- 30%

Student Responsibilities:

  1. Read the assigned texts carefully; have your reading completed on time. Come to class prepared to discuss the readings with intelligence and insight.
  2. Attend all class meetings. Quizzes and short writing assignments will be given in section with or without advanced notice. If you are not present on the day an assignment is given, you will receive a grade of 0.0 for that assignment. If there is a compelling reason that you must miss class, you can email me and we will arrange a short make-up assignment. I will offer you a maximum of two make-ups.
  3. Participate actively in class discussions. Students are expected to analyze concepts critically through intelligent and thoughtful dialogue, group activities, and written work.
  4. Be respectful of others. Some discussion topics in this class may be controversial and elicit competing viewpoints. Disagreement and debate can foster a deeper intellectual understanding as long as students maintain respect for perspectives that differ from their own.
  5. Use your UW email address. I will use this email address to contact you. If you do not check your UW account on a regular basis, you should forward it to another account that you check daily, and add important UW email addresses to your address book to ensure course-related emails are not sent to your spam folder. It is your responsibility to read correspondence I send related to the course; failure to do so could have consequences to your grade.



Week 1

Monday, June 24:                       Introduction to the Course

Wednesday, June 26:              Plato, Apology and Crito (*PDF - 31pp. total)

 DUE: 1-2 paragraph answer to the question: What, according to Socrates, constitutes good citizenship?

Week 2

Monday, July 1:                          Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. 13-14, 17-18, 21, part of 30 (*PDF - 35pp.)

Wednesday, July 3:                  Locke, Second Treatise of Government, Ch. 1-5, 7 (32pp.)              

Focus questions: How does Hobbes’s assessment of human nature inform his prescription for political organization? How does Locke’s diagnosis of the problems in the “state of nature” differ from Hobbes’s?

**First paper topic distributed.**

Week 3

Monday, July 8:                           Locke, Second Treatise of Government, Ch. 8-9, 11, 19 (39pp.)      

Wednesday, July 10:                Malcolm X, “The Ballot or the Bullet” (*PDF - 13pp.)                                            

Focus questions: What are the obligations of citizens in Locke’s prescribed political order? When do they have the right to rebel? How does Malcolm X’s take on rebellion compare to Locke’s?

Week 4

Monday, July 15:                        Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, pp. 10-44 (35pp.)

**Paper 1 Intro and Outline due.**

Wednesday, July 17:                Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, pp. 44-71 (28pp.)                                        

Focus question: What, according to Rousseau, is the origin of inequality, and what should human societies do about it?

Week 5

Monday, July 22:                       Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, Ch. 1-2, (23pp.)

**Paper 1 due.**

Wednesday, July 24:                Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk, Ch. 4, 13 (22pp.)

          Douglass, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” (*PDF – 6pp.)

Focus questions: How do Du Bois and Douglass understand the concept of equality, and what do they believe is necessary to achieve it? What, for Du Bois, would human emancipation look like?              

Week 6

Monday, July 29:                        Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, pp. 54-55, 58-79 (23pp.)

Wednesday, July 31:                Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, pp. 157-76, and last 4 

paragraphs on p. 186 (20pp.)

          Marx, “The Secret of Primitive Accumulation,” pp. 294-97 (4pp.)

Focus questions: What does human flourishing look like for Marx? How does capitalism prevent human flourishing?

**Paper 2 topic distributed.**

Week 7

Monday, August 5:                     Fraser, “Contradictions of Capital and Care” (*PDF – 19pp.) 

Wednesday, August 7:             Mellor, “Ecofeminist Political Economy” (*PDF – 12pp.)

Focus questions: How is capitalism’s reliance upon reproductive labor similar to its reliance upon the earth’s resources? Why is the expropriation (that is, uncompensated taking) of resources essential to capitalism?

**Paper 2 Intro and Outline due.** 

Week 8

Monday, August 12:                   Mill, On Liberty, Ch. 1-2 (45pp.)

Wednesday, August 14:           Mill, On Liberty, Ch. 3 (17pp.)                       

Focus question: What is the higher aim of human society, according to Mill, and how do freedom of thought, speech, and expression aid that goal?

Week 9

Monday, August 19:                   Goldman, “Anarchism: What it Really Stands For” (*PDF – 7pp.)

                                                   Kropotkin, “Mutual Aid” (*PDF - 12pp.)

Wednesday, August 21:           King, “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (*PDF - 11pp.)

                                                   Thoreau, “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience” (*PDF - 10pp.)

Focus questions: Do we really need government and laws? When, if ever, is breaking the law justified?

 **Paper 2 due.**





How to Reach Me:

You are very welcome to come see me during office hours (listed above) to talk about readings, lecture material, or anything else you like. I am also available by email. I will make every effort to reply to emails promptly, usually within about 24-48 hours. However, if you would like to discuss substantive topics or anything that will require a reply of more than a few sentences, please come see me during office hours instead.


For the benefit of our discussions and out of respect for others, please do not use cell phones, laptops, tablets, or other similar electronics during class time. Research has demonstrated that the use of computers in class has a detrimental effect both on learning and on students’ satisfaction with their education. Furthermore, computers create a physical barrier between you and the rest of the class that has a dampening effect on discussion. Please stow your electronic devices before class begins. Inappropriate use of technology may result in a grade of 0.0 for the day.

On Writing Well:

I expect your writing to convey your thoughts clearly, to advance well-supported arguments, to be stylistically sophisticated, and to be free of grammatical, typographical, and formatting errors. These standards are difficult for many students to achieve on their own, which is why I strongly recommend you seek help with your writing along the way. Solicit feedback from friends, classmates, and me.

Grading Policy:

I intend to give fair grades that reflect your understanding of, and engagement with, the course material. While your time and effort are essential to your success in this course, please understand that when I grade your writing assignments I am grading the products of your efforts, not your efforts themselves. As such, it is in your best interest to seek help with writing assignments so that the writing you produce truly reflects the depth of your understanding and quality of your thinking.

If you feel you have been graded unfairly, please take the following steps to appeal your grade:

1) Carefully read all comments.

2) Wait 24 hours before you contact me.

3) Provide a written statement to me within one week of receiving your grade explaining your reasons for contesting it and why your work deserves a higher grade. This statement should discuss only the work you have produced, not the effort you have put into it or your past course grades.

4) Bring the exam/paper in question, along with a copy of your statement, to me during office hours (or by appointment). I will reread the material, re-grade it if appropriate, and return it to you within one week.

Note: When an assignment is re-graded it will be completely reevaluated, which means your grade could go up or down as a result.

Academic Honesty:

Submit your own work only. Any idea that you present as your own must be your original thought. If you use other scholars’ work in any way, you must give credit to the source in a proper manner. Cheating and/or plagiarism are violations of the student academic code.

Respect for Diversity:

It is my intent that students from all diverse backgrounds and perspectives be well served by this course, that students’ learning needs be addressed both in and out of class, and that diversity within the classroom be viewed as a resource, strength and benefit. I will strive to present materials and activities in ways that respect and affirm such differences. I expect the same of you: while discomfort is an important part of the learning process, nobody should be made to feel unsafe in this classroom.

Disability Resources for Students:

Embedded in the core values of the University of Washington is a commitment to ensuring access to a quality higher education experience for a diverse student population. Disability Resources for Students (DRS) recognizes disability as an aspect of diversity that is integral to society and to our campus community. DRS serves as a partner in fostering an inclusive and equitable environment for all University of Washington students. The DRS office is in 011 Mary Gates Hall. http://depts.washington.edu/uwdrs/

Disability Justice Classroom:

In this class, we will think of ability/disability through a disability justice framework. This approach begins with a recognition that everybody (and every body) has needs and that there is no “normal” body that is entirely free of needs. I invite you to communicate your needs so that the burden of meeting them is not placed solely upon you. For those whose needs are already being met, we should shift our thinking from “I have no needs” to “My needs are being met.”

Other Student Resources:

A list of helpful links regarding all aspects of student life can be found here: http://f2.washington.edu/treasury/riskmgmt/UCIRO/links/students


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)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:08pm