Lecture Notes

Political Theory Lecture Notes


The importance of The Republic (p. 41, L351ff) 

Nature of Socratic Dialogues

Major Themes:

power, justice, virtue, the city

Book I

Thrasymachus' argument

--justice is what the powerful say it is

this is a compelling argument, relevant for all age, and relevant for democracies as well as tyrannies. In a democracy, power is expressed through money in elections and public policy decisions, through public opinion polling in important decisions, through majority opinion

--there is no reward for virtue

in a sense this is true. This is the same complaint of the Psalmist in Psalm 73

1.     How good God is to the upright, the Lord, to those who are clean of heart!

2.     But, as for me, I lost my balance; my feet all but slipped,


Because I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.


For they suffer no pain; their bodies are healthy and sleek.


They are free of the burdens of life; they are not afflicted like others.


Thus pride adorns them as a necklace; violence clothes them as a robe.


Out of their stupidity comes sin; evil thoughts flood their hearts.


They scoff and spout their malice; from on high they utter threats.


2 They set their mouths against the heavens, their tongues roam the earth.


3 So my people turn to them and drink deeply of their words.


They say, "Does God really know?" "Does the Most High have any knowledge?"

Socrates response to Thrasymachus is to insist that the one deciding on justice must do so in the interests of those he rules, not in his (or her) own interests. He uses, for example, the analogy of a doctor who must work for the good of those whom he heals.

Socrates response to the second argument is to insist that those guilty of vicious lives (as opposed to virtuous), do not prosper in the long run, whereas, virtue is, in a sense, its own reward.

all this implies of course, that something called the SOUL exists

Justice the excellence of the soul

Book II

The story of Gyges, p. 48, L360

Method of the Republic: Letters Writ Large p. 58, L368

This raises question as to social classes, see e.g. 374b ff

education 376e ff

Book III

Entertainment and moral formation (cont'd) 386b ff

use of fear in education

Training of leaders: p. 105, Line 405ff.

Music, Gymnastic

Components and character of music: 398c ff

Balance: of music and gymnastic education 410 d

The Character and Selection of the Guardians p. 120, L412ff

prudence, selflessness

myth of the metals p. 94, 414d ff

Character and Selection of the Warriors p. 126, L416ff

Book IV

The Virtues of the State:

Practical Wisdom, Courage, Temperance,

Better and Worse principle in the soul 431ff, 439ff

analogy to the soul:

CITY                                                              SOUL                                                                 VIRTUES

Guardians, Rulers                                            rational part , reasoning                                        practical wisdom (prudence)

Military, Auxiliaries                                           spirited part: passions,                                          fortitude (courage)

Craftsmen                                                        irrational appetitive part (lust, hunger, thirst)           temperance (moderation)

Justice is when everything is in its place doing its proper function. Socrates also suggests that when all the parts work together, it means a certain kind of moderation.

remaining question: advantages of justice/injustice

& Justice: the discovery of justice!! 432 ff

In the just soul, the passions align themselves with the rational part, in the unjust soul, the passions align themselves with the desires.

452a The Noble Lie

Book V

egalitarianism 451d ff

Philosopher King 473dff

it is admittedly, difficult to find the two elements together.

Historical examples?

It may be more realistic to expect leaders who choose counselors trained in political philosophy

Book VII

Allegory of the Cave 514a ff

Book IX

The Nature of the Tyrant


1. the appetites and desires rule the soul

2. no shame

3. dominates resources for personal gain

4. no prudence, no moderation

5. lawless

6. tyranny of the desires, passions

7. surrounded by flatters

8. no friends

9. no freedom

The tyrant's city is a reflection of his own soul:

If then, a man is like his city, isn't it also necessary that the same arrangement be in him and that his soul be filled with much slavery and illiberality, and that, further, those parts of it that are most decent be slaves while a small part, the most depraved and maddest, be master?"

Book X: Plato's idea of "ideas"; also see 507b ff

myth of Er: 614ff


1. What is the theme of The Republic?

2. What is Thrasymachus' position? Why is it important?

3. Why do Socrates and his friends found an "imaginary" city?

4. How do the city and soul correspond?

5. What are the four primary virtues? What is their definition? How do they correspond to the soul and to the city?

6. What is the allegory of the cave? Of the horse and eye? of the beast? of the three-headed mythological man?

7. Explain what the tyrant is like


one of Plato's early dialogues

Theme: The purpose of rhetoric and the foolishness of virtue

445bff the purpose of rhetoric Gorgias v. Socrates

459cff Gorgias emphasizes his point

General discussion about rhetoric 449d ff

Two views of leadership 521a ff

Death and the life of virtue 524b ff

Aristotle's Politics

Very practical in approach, both in discovery as well as conclusion.

contrast Aristotle & Plato

Aristotle very interested in "what is", not so much what ideally "should be" (See Rafael's "School of Athens" with Plato gesturing up, and Aristotle gesturing downwards.

Book I

Begins with the household, then builds to the city (or nation)

The city is by nature, since man by nature is a "political/social animal" (Bk I, Chapter 2). Those who aren't political/social by nature are something less, or more, than human.

Defense of slavery (Bk I chapter 4-6)

Defense based on 1) nature & 2)convention

Book II

Chapter 1: An emphasis on what is practical

Chapter 7: important discussion of equality
Considerations in making property equal: 
--making property equal is difficult because of the impossibility of also making desires equal
--making property equal is also difficult because of the impossibility of making honors equal (10) 
--people are not happy with just the necessary things. (11)
--inherent difficulties in welfare (19ff) 
--the best the legislator can hope for is to encourage moderation in the possession of property (7,8) Most problems arise from excess

Chapter 8, 16: statement about habit and law (cf. Aquinas)

Book III

3 questions:

1. Chapter 1: Who is a citizen? Someone who shares in deliberation (12, also 5:1, 13: 12) (see 14th amendment)

2. What is a city and when does it lose its identity? self sufficiency and justice (cf Article IV of U.S. Constitution)

(Chapter 12: the political good is "justice" cf. Fed Paper #51)

3. Chapter 4: the good citizen and the good man--they cannot always be the same

other ideas:

Chapter 7: monarchy/tyranny, aristocracy/oligarchy, polity/democracy

Chapter 11: defense of democracy; analogy of "covered dish" dinner. Here we find a fairly strong defense of a democracy .

Chapter 13: place of virtue

Chapter 17: the best government is the one the circumstances will allow

Book IV:

Chapter 1: an illuminating discussion of what political science is and what its tasks are

Best gov't simply: monarchy/aristocracy, but you need both wisdom and consent

Best go'vt: practically speaking, polity, but you need a healthy middle class

Best gov't under specific circumstances, might be some deviation of democracy or oligarchy

Chapter 2: deviations from good gov't: tyranny is worst, oligarchy second, democracy third

Chapter 8: defining elements of regimes:

monarchy: wisdom, aristocracy: virtue, democracy: freedom

Chapter 9: the manner of mixing the design of governments

Chapter 11: the best practible regime

Book V:
Chapter 9:9: the importance of civic education

Book VII: 13, 14:
Education, leisure, & virtue


City of God, St. Augustine

Preliminary Concepts:


Historical background

Fall of Rome 410

St. Augustine's background

Purpose for writing

St. Augustine has to respond to:

1. If God is good, why is there evil? (even the Christians suffered evil; e.g. convents and the problem of chastity; see I:28, cf. E.Smart)

2. Christian virtue caused the downfall of Rome; more generally this criticism is that Christians don't make good citizens.

3. The abandonment of the pagan gods caused the downfall of Rome (see, e.g. Book II)

"Rome" represents an political order; it is a symbol for every earthly political society


The Concept of a "Just War"

Book XIX

Summary of Just War:

1. It's better not to go to war at all, but war may be necessary in the City of Man (XIX:7). This suggests that pacifism may not be possible in the City of Man

2. War can be just; this means that war is not intrinsically evil (XIX:7)

3. War is for the sake of peace, meaning it  (XIX:7, XIX:12)

4. War is a response to injustice (XIX:7)

5. Sometimes we take enemies for friends and friends for enemies (XIX:8)

6. Peace will never be fully realized in the City of Man (XIX:11)

7. Peace requires order which may require war (XIX: 13)

Others, especially St. Thomas Aquinas, built on St. Augustine's teaching on just war.

Later developments are logical extensions or different articulations of what St. Augustine said or implied:

8. war is for self-defense

9. war may be undertaken for humanitarian reasons

10. war must be fought in a way that is just. This means, principally, (1) that civilians should not be deliberate targets nor should war be fought in such a way (2) that violates virtue, for example, out of vengeance, hate, bloodlust.

Implications of the Just War Theory

1. Provides the moral basis by which war is evaluated

2. Provides a contrast with non-Western approaches to War

3. Provides a contrast with other Western approaches to War, e.g., utilitarian, existentialism, and nihilism

The City of God and The City of Man

 Two Different Societies

Augustine uses a variety of names to distinguish the two cities: City of God/City of Man; City of God/City of Evil, family of men who live by faith/family of men who do not live by faith; the religious/the irreligious; those who love God/those who love self; temporal city/eternal city; immortal city/immortal city.

Two Societies of Angels

Two Kinds of Love (XIV: 28)

Development of the Two Cities (XV:1--XVII:54)

The End (or Purposes) of the Two Cities (XIX: 1)

For both cities it is truth and happiness, but in one, happiness is pursued by philosophy (see St. Augustine's praise of Plato and Aristotle in VIII:4ff) , in the other by religion.

Virtue is integral to happiness (see St. Augustine's discussion of four virtues in XIX:4), but the attainment of virtue is ultimately dependent upon God

Three ways to live life: contemplative, active, contemplative-active, but all three require a responsible use of leisure  (Book XIX:19)

The final fate of the two cities: they will be separated, the city of man will end and will be judged, the city of God will enjoy eternal bliss (XX:1, XXII:1)

St. Augustine's Teaching on Evil

One of the principal questions he had to address is to explain why evil exists if God is a good god. His answer:

1. Rome was not "Christian"; in fact, no earthly city can be "Christian"

2. No one is blameless; no one can say that evil is "undeserved"

3. Evil is a "defect"; it is the absence of good (XII:7,8)

4. good can come out of evil in this life (I:8)

5. good can come out of evil in the next life


Implications of the Two Cities

1. Separation of Church & State

2. antidote to Utopianism (see Utopia by More) and Dystopianism (see Brave New World by Huxley)

3. no earthly city (including the U.S.) is a Christian nation, in the sense of it being a perfect fulfillment of the City of Man

St. Thomas Aquinas

Reading: Qq 90-105 (pp. 3-159).

Although this book may look a little complicated, the basic info is pretty simple. It looks complicated because of the medieval format in which it is written, which is called a "yes" and "no" format.

The message, though is this: There is a hierarchy of law in the universe and it looks like this:

ETERNAL LAW, that is, the law of God, is the source of all law. From it spring two different traditions of law, RELIGIOUS LAW and NATURAL LAW

The Political Ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas


Eternal Law is the source of all Law

It gives rise to Religious and Natural Law

Natural Law gives rise to man-made law, or Positive Law.

Positive Law is good insofar as it follows the Natural Law




Question 94, Second Article:

The Natural Law pertains to reason; i.e., we understand it by our reason.

The Precepts of the Natural Law:

1. self-preservation

2. continue the species

3. build society

4. know the truth, know the truth about God


Another way of summarizing the Natural Law: Do Good, Avoid Evil


Aquinas and Law

I. System of Law

Eternal Law

Doctrine of Judeo-Christian tradition


p. 29-41 (Question 93)

Natural Law

p. 42-54 (Question 94)

Human Law

p. 55-85 (Questions 95, 96, 98)

II. Natural Law/ Human Law Relationship

Natural Law v. Human Law

Natural right/ Positive Right (p. 98)

Just as physical laws exist and have consequences, so too does ---- law. How?

Human Law derived from Natural Law

“Positive” Law = Human Law

Dredd Scott decision and slavery

Problem: No higher standard

III. Advantage of Natural Law

Church- State

Source of Human Law

Judgment of Human Law

IV. Thomas and the Natural Law

1.      Seeking Knowledge/the truth

A meaningful life vs. a superficial life

Seeking the truth, the truth about God

Freedom of conscience

Freedom of Inquiry

Free exercise by religion


2. Live in Society
Law should promote the integrity and stability of the social order.

Active Concern – For the common good (p. 66-67)

Avoid innovation SEEK STABILITY (p. 80-83)

Best Form of Government (88) Constitutional Monarchy

Social Welfare


Distributive Justice

Reciprocal Justice- Inflation, Baseball Salaries

Restitutive Justice - ---- prison

How do we avoid abuse of welfare?


3. Perpetuate the Species/ Educate the Young

Virtue Vice and Legislation (Virtue 24-26, 46-48; Vice 67-69)

How do you know when to legislate virtue and when not to?

Welfare Statism

Education Critical Function of State


 (Modern Philosophy: the fourth precept is all that modern philosophy recognizes

4.Self Preservation

Law and Order

Executive Prerogative (75-77, 83-85)

Individual Focus



  1. Perspective
  2. Subjective interpretation
  3. Human Nature is ambiguous
  4. NO Human Nature


Question 95, Fourth Article

The Natural Law is the same for all


Question 96, Second Article

You can legislate morality, but only up to a point


Question 97, Of Change in Laws, Second Article

Whether human law should always be changed whenever something better occurs?

Law should not be changed lightly because it needs the support of Custome

Third Article  Custom can take on the force of law and law should reflect it.


Question 57, Of Right

First Article, ff.

"Right" and "Justice"

Justice is about equality, but not absolute equality (egalitarianism). It is about equality among those equally deserving.

Natural Right and Positive Right

Justice has to do with our dealings with others

How do we know what rights an individual has? Rights come in at least three ways:


1. rights by nature

2. rights by family/social position

3. rights by political position


Question 58:

First Article

The definition of justice: "the perpetual and constant will to render to each one his right"


Second Article

Justice is always "toward another". You can't be just by yourself.


Third Article

Justice is a habit, a virtue.


Fourth Article

Justice is in the will, not the intellect. Justice is achieved by doing something, not thinking something. It is a moral virtue not an intellectual virtue.


Twelfth Article

Justice is the highest virtue (this is not clear in Aristotle; for him, prudence may be the highest virtue)



A's discussions of monarchy and tyranny are very important here. He follows Aristotle's discussion of the same in the Politics, but he expands on the ideas in useful ways.


Monarchy is the best of the best


Tyranny is the worst of the worst

(So there is a risk in going after the best.)

Why is this so? The answer is efficiency: if you are unified you can do more good, BUT, if you are unified you can do more bad.


Aquinas also suggests that brave men are hard to find under tyrants. He quotes Aristotle "brave men are found were brave men are honored."

cf. to Iraq and the security forces (they appear to be a bunch of cowards when the going gets tough)

another interesting comparison is to Tocqueville's warning about the tyranny of the majority, that is the possibility of a tyranny within a democracy! Cf. also C.S. Lewis' observation at the end of the The Abolition of Men: "

We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."

The question is: is bravery honored in our society?

So, Aquinas provides guidelines for keeping the monarch from becoming a tyrant:

1. look at the potential monarch's character carefully--does he/she have a tendency toward tyranny? Why does he/she want power?

2. "temper" the monarch's power. This is an early leaning toward separation of powers, rule of law

3. have emergency provisions in place in the event of tyranny


Another important question



Discussion Questions for Brave New World


1. Your instructor argued that Brave New World described a different kind of tyranny of the future. Explain. What warnings does this offer Western civilization? Some people have argued that Brave New World is prophetic in that it describes the future. Do you agree?

2. What role does self-indulgence and sexuality play in the brave new world of this novel?

3. What is the attitude toward family?

4. What is the attitude toward history, reading, and study?


Utopia by Sir Thomas More

The most important part of the book is Book II, although Book I is important in that it is a "set-up" for what follows.

Utopia is written by Sir Thomas More in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. That is, the book is not to be taken seriously, rather it is a kind of satire meant to send a message, and the message is the opposite of what appears on the surface. U. describes a place that never could exist because it assumes that human nature can be changed, and in More's opinion is cannot be changed. Utopia, as you may know, comes from two different Greek words, "ou" meaning "no" and "topos" meaning place. Other "tongue in cheek" phrases: the name of a prominent river (the “Anydrus”) means “not water,” the title of a chief magistrate in Utopia is Ademus, which means “not people,” and the capital is “Aircastle.”  Additionally, More’s sometimes-ribald sense of humor is in evidence in his naming of the showy diplomats who try to impress the Utopians with their ostentatious display of gold.  These he calls the “Flatulentines,” i.e. “fart makers” (More, 8, 70, 87-88). 


In some ways the key to the book is found in the last few pages. What More is saying here is that a Utopia is not possible because of several aspects of human nature. These aspects are greed, ambition, greed, and ingratitude for starters. As you read through Book II, what More would have you do is read between the lines and determine why the life and government of the Utopians could not possibly work, in the separate spheres he described, such as leadership, commerce, warfare, etc

Specifically you might check out the sections:

Social and Business Relations (Norton Edition, p. 44; Penguin edition p. 79, beginning third paragraph)

Travel and Trade in Utopia (Norton Edition, p. 48; Penguin edition, p. 83 beginning last line)

Gold and Silver (Norton Edition, p. 50; Penguin p. 85 beginning second paragraph)

Punishments, Legal Procedures, and Customs (Norton Edition, p. 67; Penguin begininng last  paragraph p. 104.

Another way of looking at this is to ask, "What is it about political plan, a policy position, a government,  leadership--that induces us to call it "utopian"?

1. Assumptions about human nature:

--we expect to much about human nature, that is, too much goodness, benevolence, cooperation, etc.

--we expect too little of human nature, that is, we do not make allowance for rebellion, for meanness, for greed, even for the "mystery" of human life


2.Assumptions about social relations:

--we expect to relate better than they do, e.g. more cooperatively, more patiently


3. Assumptions about leadership and the use of power

--we expect people to handle power better than they do. We don't worry about the abuse of power, about the corrupting influence of power (contrast Lord of the Rings)


4. Assumptions about commerce:

--we don't take into account greed, selfishness


4. Assumptions about international affairs

--we expect that other nations will leave us alone


Other utopian, dystopian novels (some better than others):

Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy (this is a true Utopian novel)

1984 by Orwell

The Thanatos Syndrome by Walker Percy

Animal Farm

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gillman

Island by Aldous Huxley

The Giver by Lois Lowry

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

We by Zamyatin

A Clockwork Orange


There are obviously important comparisons between Utopia and Brave New World



© Hank Edmondson 2012