Revolutionary Ideas: An Introduction to Legal and Political Philosophy

Political and legal institutions are built on foundational, philosophical ideas--ideas about freedom, equality, justice, and happiness. In this course, we will explore those ideas, taking the institutions around us not as fixed and unquestionable, but as things to evaluate and, if necessary, to change.

About The Course

What is the purpose of government?  Why should we have a State?  What kind of State should we have?

Even within a political community, there may be sharp disagreements about the role and purpose of government.  Some want an active, involved government, seeing legal and political institutions as the means to solve our most pressing problems, and to help bring about peace, equality, justice, happiness, and to protect individual liberty.  Others want a more minimal government, motivated, perhaps, by some of the disastrous political experiments of the 20th Century, and the thought that political power is often just a step away from tyranny.  In many cases, these disagreements arise out of deep philosophical disagreements. 

All political and legal institutions are built on foundational ideas.  In this course, we will explore those ideas, taking the political institutions and political systems around us not as fixed and unquestionable, but as things to evaluate and, if necessary, to change.  We will consider the ideas and arguments of some of the world’s most celebrated philosophers, including historical thinkers such as Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, Mary Wollstonecraft, José Martí, and John Stuart Mill; and more contemporary theorists such as Kwame Anthony Appiah, Linda Bosniak, Joseph Carens, G.A. Cohen, Angela Davis, Ronald Dworkin, David Estlund, Frantz Fanon, John Finnis, Lani Guinier, H.L.A. Hart, Robert Nozick, Martha Nussbaum, Julius Nyerere, Ayn Rand, John Rawls, Chin Liew Ten, and Jeremy Waldron. 

The aim of the course is not to convince you of the correctness of any particular view or political position, but to provide you with a deeper and more philosophically-informed basis for your own views, and, perhaps, to help you better understand the views of those with whom you disagree.  

Frequently Asked Questions

Will I get a Statement of Accomplishment after completing this class?

Yes.  Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructors.

Recommended Background

There are no prerequisites for this course.