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Introduction To Philosophy – Social and Political Philosophy

In a way, social and political philosophy have been around as long as “philosophy” itself. Ever since the Platonic Period, philosophers have debated the ideal State and justice. This unit you will read selections from Plato’s Republic and determine his position on justice and the good State. We will follow that with learning about how Aristotle differed from Plato. Often philosophical novices lump the three greats (Plato, Aristotle, Socrates) together in thought. They were quite different; which has driven debate for centuries. Following Aristotle, we will move forward a few centuries and discuss someone you have probably heard of, but know little about: Saint Thomas Aquinas.

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Reading

Plato’s Republic: Because it is so broadly written, The Republic can be read from many perspectives: as a thesis on political theory and practice, as a tutorial handbook, or as book defining and defending ethics. In this Unit, we are going to look at it from a Societal point of view.

For Plato, the individual is more important than society. A good society is formed based on meeting the needs and values of the people living within it. For Plato, contrary to the title of his work, a Monarchy was the ideal form of government. He felt that a peerless leader (king) who could rule with perfect justice was the perfect form of government. That said, he also felt it wasn’t reasonable to expect, so writes that the republic is the most wholesome form and, basically, the next best thing.

Burnyeat, M.F. (1997). Culture and Society in Plato’s Republic. The Tanner Lectures on Human Values. Harvard University. Available at https://tannerlectures.utah.edu/_documents/a-to-z/b/Burnyeat99.pdf

  • Read the entire section in Culture and Society in Plato’s Republic called “A Tale of Two Cities” starting on page 228 through page 236.
  • Take notes about the interplay within the text between Socrates and Glaucon. In this writing, Aristotle is using Socrates and Glaucon as two opposing ideas about ethics and society to present his argument about which viewpoint is fair and just.

Levin, M. (2012). Ameritopia: The Unmaking of America. NY: Simon and Schuster, Inc. Available at http://academic.udayton.edu/LawrenceUlrich/Leadership370/Plato%27s%20Republic%20and%20The%20Perfect%20Society.pdf

  • Now read the free online excerpt from Mark Levin’s Ameritopia, Chapter 2 page 23-36.
  • This opinion piece, by a sometimes controversial American radio personality, may give you an easier-to-understand perspective on Plato’s thoughts in The Republic. Mr. Levin gives a rather frank and pointed viewpoint of how Plato addresses the family unit as part of society. Think about this as you form your thoughts for your written assignment. A good philosopher knows that you do have to agree with someone to appreciate their approach to explaining a concept.

Watch the TED-Ed talk on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (Book VII in The Republic): Gendler, A. (2015). Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. [Video File]. Ted-Ed. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RWOpQXTltA

  • Prepare to discuss the challenge of teaching to those resistant to conflicting information.
  • You will be asked to use your knowledge of research and the internet to find and paste another link explaining the Allegory of the Cave to your peers during the Discussion Forum.

Zarri, J. (1948). Aristotle’s Theory of the Origin of State. Oxbridge Essays. Available at http://www.scholardarity.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Aristotles-Theory-of-the-Origin-of-the-State-DRAFT-2-PDF.pdf

  • Zarri (1948) feels that Aristotle’s view of The State is superior to Plato’s. In your written assignment, you will be asked to define your own view of social philosophy. Use your research skills to find other theories (for or against Aristotle and Plato) to be prepared to present them in your writing.

Saint Thomas Aquinas: You are probably familiar with St. Thomas Aquinas for the teachings he espoused about education and reason. Thomism came from him; a belief that all reason comes from God. He was a quite the scholar of his time, and a whole class could be formed around his remarkable (and controversial) life. In this class, we are bracketed to talk about St. Thomas and his view of The State, however. Go to the website for the Constitutional Rights Foundation and read about St. Thomas Aquinas and Natural Law and Common Good (it is also a good review for the Aristotle reading). Available at http://www.crf-usa.org/bill-of-rights-in-action/bria-22-4-c-st-thomas-aquinas-natural-law-and-the-common-good

*For further optional reading about St. Thomas, try “The Condemnation of 1277” where he was condemned by a Bishop of The Church for having radical teachings, only to be canonized in 1323, 50 years after his death, and thus declared by Pope John XXII, to be perfect (and by extension his thoughts were).

ASSIGNMENTS:

For this PART 1:

  • Your FIRST of TWO topics this week:
    • Contrast Plato with Aristotle and decide whom you agree with more (and why)
  • Your SECOND topic posts in the Discussion Forum this week:
    • Evaluate Saint Thomas Aquinas’ view of the root of good society

Guidelines

  • Do not write more than 1-2 paragraphs per topic (try to be succinct; it is the sign of a sharp mind to be able to collate and present an argument succinctly)

For this PART 2:

Present a 3-page paper on your worldview of family, society, and political philosophy looking at it through the lens of the philosophers we have discussed this week. Remember, your personal philosophy is right for you, you do not have to agree with these scholars or anyone in the class. Please respect yourself enough to state your case, and others enough to allow them to state theirs.

Sample questions you may discuss (but you can come up with your own):

  • How do I see Plato’s philosophy in The Republic in the society where I live?
  • I think Aristotle/Plato/St. Aquinas most represents my town/family because…
  • Explain, compare, and contrast your personal philosophy with that of one of these men.
  • St. Thomas was wrong because… (same for Plato and Aristotle)
  • Summarize each of the three philosophers’ position and explain how you see each of them around you in different ways.
  • Create your own topic based on one, two, or all these men. Do not simply write a biography-paper. The purpose is for you, as a college student, to dive deeper than a biography.

Assignment Guidelines

Write a fully APA-compliant 3- page paper for this Unit

  • You should include a reference page, with APA citations, at the end of your paper. This page is not part of the 3-pages of written work
  • Standard margins, 12-point font, New Times Roman or similar
  • Do not write less, do not write more
  • Be sure to read the assessment criteria before you begin writing

For more information on APA formatting: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/560/01/

Assessment Criteria

  • Does the paper have a clearly formed question/statement using a philosopher/philosophical lens studied in this unit?
  • Does the paper discuss the author’s worldview on family, society, and politics as related to their chosen philosophical lens?
  • Does the writer give meaningful examples that illustrate his/her beliefs? Do those examples make clearer the ideas proposed in the paper?
  • Presentation of reasonable argument for why the chosen topic is important to the student’s view of society.
  • APA and overall look and feel of the paper is college-level work

For this PART 3:

Hopefully, this week has sowed some seeds of interest in how you have formed your worldview about the importance of family and society. Having a baseline from which to start is often the best way to ask yourself questions you have never thought of before and maybe even learning something about yourself.

For this part, please share what the most interesting part (lesson/discussion) this week was to you. How did that reading, or experience of thinking about it, change your worldview? Please explain how you thought before, and how the new viewpoint changed that old thinking into something new.

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