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Classical and Medieval Political Philosophy

Lehman College, Fall 2021

Instructor:  Asher Wycoff Email:
Time:  Tuesday, 11:00am–12:15pm Office hours:  Tuesday, 1:00pm–2:00pm

Course Overview: Debates on the fundamental questions of politics stretch as far back as the written word. What rights and obligations do human beings have? What does a just society look like? How do different forms of government rise and fall? Should politics be a domain of strategic compromise, or the pursuit of an absolute moral good? These debates remain as significant today as they were millennia ago. In this course, we will survey six canonical authors in chronological order, moving from antiquity through the Middle Ages: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Al-Farabi, Maimonides, and Machiavelli. Each provides their own answers to the perennial questions of political philosophy.

Course Modality: This is an online course, so sessions and materials will be delivered over Blackboard and Zoom. The modality is "semi-synchronous," meaning we will hold a weekly session (Tuesday at 11:00am) to discuss assigned material, but most work is assigned asynchronously. That is, you will be asked to complete work on your own schedule, aiming for the listed due dates. The course is broken into six modules—one per author—each lasting two weeks, give or take. Each module includes a short exercise and a discussion section to be completed in Blackboard. The modules also include supplementary slides as guides to the texts, in the interest of freeing up class meetings to center on discussion as much as possible, rather than lecture.

I will also be holding regular office hours over Zoom every Tuesday from 1:00–2:00pm. If this time slot does not work for you, please email me so we can work out an alternative meeting time.

Texts: This is a ZTC (Zero Textbook Cost) course, made possible in part by the fact that all the authors we're reading have been dead for many centuries, so their work is public domain. All assigned readings are freely available on Blackboard. The reading for any given week won't be particularly long, but it will often be challenging, so set aside the necessary time to complete it. Meeting time will center on the readings, so please complete the readings ahead of class, and come prepared with comments and questions on the text.

Requirements and Grading: The course is oriented around discussion primarily, including participation in both synchronous meetings and asynchronous discussion boards. Active and thoughtful engagement is necessary to make discussion productive. As such, I strongly recommend you take notes on assigned readings and come to synchronous meetings prepared with comments and questions about the text. I also urge you to remain respectful of other students' perspectives, and respond to differing views thoughtfully.

Formal (i.e., graded) requirements are as follows:

Rubrics for each assignment are available on Blackboard under the syllabus tab.

Course Requirement Points Possible
Synchronous participation 10 points possible
Discussion board contributions (five) 25 points possible (5 points each)
Module exercises (five) 25 points possible (5 points each)
Response papers 40 points possible (20 points each)
Total 100 points possible

The course as a whole is graded out of 100 points, so your raw score at the end of the semester is your percentage grade. I assign letter grades by the usual scale: 93–100 is an A, 90–92 is an A-minus, 87–89 is a B-plus, etc. Please reach out with any questions or concerns about grading over the course of the term.

Conduct Guidelines: In all interactions with the instructor and other students, but especially in class discussion (whether synchronous or written), please communicate as respectfully and constructively as possible. Disagreement with other students or arguments in the assigned readings is to be expected, but it should be taken as an opportunity for substantive engagement, not dismissal.

Academic Integrity: This course includes a number of written assignments, and it would be nice if you didn't plagiarize. Plagiarism is any act of presenting someone else's ideas or words as your own. Faculty and administration at Lehman College are committed to fostering an environment without plagiarism. Students are independently responsible for knowing what constitutes cheating and plagiarism and avoiding both. If you are unclear about what qualifies as plagiarism, you can consult the full CUNY Academic Integrity Policy by clicking here.

I cannot award credit in cases of intentional plagiarism, such as submission of an assignment whose text is lifted wholesale from somewhere else. This isn't especially common, but it does happen! Please don't do it. More common things that are technically plagiarism, such as "patchwriting" (close paraphrase without attribution), I will point out but usually not penalize. I do ask that you give parenthetical citations with author and page number after close paraphrases and direct quotes.

Accessibility: In order to receive disability-related academic accommodations students should first be registered with the Office of Student Disability Services (SDS). Instructions for registering with the Office can be accessed by clicking here. If you have already registered with the Office of Student Disability Services, please provide me with the appropriate documentation and discuss your specific needs with me, and I will do my best to provide the necessary accommodations.

Course Schedule

Tuesday, Sept. 7 is Rosh HaShanah — no classes scheduled

Module 1: Plato

Module 2: Aristotle

Module 3: Augustine of Hippo

Submit first response paper by Tuesday, Oct. 26

Module 4: Abu Nasr Al-Farabi

Module 5: Moses Maimonides

Module 6: Niccolò Machiavelli

Submit second response paper by Friday, Dec. 17