PHIL 332.  Modern Political Philosophy (5 credits)


        What is called "modern" philosophy is not very modern.  It begins in the 16th century and extends to the 19th century.  Before the modern period, government legitimacy was typically thought to depend on divine endorsement or historical precedent, but not on the consent of the governed.  The idea that government legitimacy depends on some sort of actual or hypothetical consent is a "modern" idea.  This new idea was part of a new conception of individuals as bearers of rights--rights even their rulers were morally bound to respect.  In this course, we study those philosophers in the modern period who were most important in the gradual development of a rights-based political theory and those who were most persuasive in opposing it.  Also typical of the modern period is a rationalist epistemology, in which knowledge is taken to be the infallible product of an individual mind that directly discerns the truth.  We will see the beginnings a new epistemology for moral and political theory in which knowledge is taken to be the product of a social-historical process. 









We will read from the works of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Smith, Kant, Burke, Tocqueville, Hegel, and Marx.  There will be a Midterm and a Final Exam.  Each exam will have an in-class component and a take-home component.  Also, there will be questions to be answered in writing in class.  Prerequisites:  At least one course in philosophy.  No freshmen.  Meets I&S Requirement. 

        Text:  Steven M. Cahn, Classics of Modern Political Theory. 
























        A particular use of a term is NORMATIVE when the term is used in a way that has ACTION-GUIDING [PRESCRIPTIVE/ PROSCRIPTIVE] force.  Some terms commonly used normatively are:  ought; duty; obligation; right; wrong; permissible; and forbidden.  When applied to actions, appropriate and inappropriate are typically normative.  [Note that not all NORMATIVE uses are MORAL uses.  For example, ought can be used in a NON-MORAL, PRUDENTIAL sense, as in:  One ought to eat nutritious foods.]


When a term is used normatively, we will call it (in that particular use) a NORMATIVE TERM.















A use of a term is EVALUATIVE when the term is used to express approval or disapproval.  Some terms commonly used evaluatively are:  good; bad; excellent; and awful.  When a term is used evaluatively, we will call it (in that particular use) an EVALUATIVE TERM.  

[Note that EVALUATIVE TERMS can express moral approval or disapproval, but can also express other types of non-moral approval or disapproval (e.g., The statement that apples taste good is a non-moral evaluative statement).]



PURELY DESCRIPTIVE TERMS are terms that are used in a way that is NOT NORMATIVE and NOT EVALUATIVE.  [Note that almost any term CAN be used normatively or evaluatively, but many terms typically are not.  Can you think of an example?] 















PURELY DESCRIPTIVE STATEMENTS are statements that contain only PURELY DESCRIPTIVE terms (no NORMATIVE or EVALUATIVE terms).  [Normative/Evaluative statements can contain SOME Purely Descriptive terms, but Purely Descriptive statements cannot contain ANY Normative/Evaluative terms.]


NORMATIVE/EVALUATIVE STATEMENTS are statements that include at least one NORMATIVE/EVALUATIVE TERM.  For example, moral statements about what one ought or ought not to do (e.g., the statement that one ought not to steal or the statement that one ought to tell the truth) are NORMATIVE, because they contain the NORMATIVE term ought.  [Note that not all normative statements are moral.  See above, for an example of a normative prudential statement.]
















A moral norm is a generalization that applies to all acts of a certain kind (e.g., Killing another human being is wrong.) 


A moral principle is a generalization that applies to a wide variety of kinds of actions (e.g., Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.)


A particular moral judgment is a moral judgment about a particular actual or hypothetical case (e.g., that it would have been morally permissible to assassinate Adolph Hitler in 1943). 





















        Reasoning from Moral Norms or Principles and other Acceptable Premises to a Moral Judgment about a Particular Case (a Particular Moral Judgment). 

        For religious traditions with an infallible moral authority, all moral reasoning is Top-Down.  Enlightenment philosophers assumed that all reasoning was Top-Down, from infallible premises.  I refer to this model of reasoning as the Proof Paradigm. 


        An example from the U.S. DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE:


"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." 













        Begin with judgments about particular cases.  Find the moral norms or principles that best explain our particular moral judgments about actual and hypothetical cases. 




























PREMISES:  P1.  It is always wrong to kill another person. (This is a Moral Norm.)

        P2.  I am a person.

        P3.  If you shoot me, I will (probably) die.


CONCLUSION:  PMJ1.  It is wrong for you to shoot me now (This is a Particular Moral Judgment). 






















PREMISES:  P1.  It is always wrong to kill another person.  (Moral Norm)

        P2.  I am a person.

        P3.  If you shoot me, I will (probably) die.

        P4.  I am trying to kill you. 


CONCLUSION:  PMJ2.  It is wrong for you to shoot me now (even though I am trying to kill you).  (Particular Moral Judgment)


Let PMJ2' be the judgment that it is not wrong for you to shoot me now if I am trying to kill you.  If you accept PMJ2', you must reject one of the premises of the above derivation.  The premise that seems to need revision is the moral norm P1. 




EQUILIBRIUM REASONING:  Allows for reasoning to go in both directions, top-down and bottom-up.









"Modern" Political Philosophy

and Models of Moral Reasoning


        Modern political philosophy begins when authors try to use reason to answer normative political questions rather than appealing to authority.  In the modern period, the usual assumption is that moral reasoning is a priori (based on rational insight, not on experience) and is top-down.

        However, we will see the beginnings of alternative models of moral reasoning, models of reasoning that allow moral discovery based on experience.






















1.  Collective Action Problems and the role of government in solving them.


2.  Social Contract.  The Importance of Actual or Hypothetical Consent in the Justification of a Political System or Government.  Contrast with the State of Nature.


3.  Individual Human Rights.  That governments must respect the rights of their subjects or the subjects have a right to overthrow the government.


4.  That the principles that determine the justification of a political system or form of government are not self-evident.


5.  Invisible Hand Explanations


6.  History as Progress.

                                        Everyone else    









I Cooperate







  -99-Not as Bad


I Defect (D)



 95-Not as Good






A Collective Action Problem:  How the Numbers in the Matrix Reflect Preferences Over the Outcomes.