Modern Philosophy

Essay Topics on Enlightenment Political Philosophy





Under Parts I-V, respond to A or B in three of the parts and under Part VI, respond to A or B, except: 1) if under Parts I-V you select questions on Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, you must answer VI B or 2) if under Parts I-V you select questions on Mill, Wollstonecraft, and Marx, you must answer VI A.

Write in your own words (with few direct quotes and little paraphrasing) and aim for accuracy, relevancy, clarity, and incisiveness. Exams are due the third class following the distribution of questions. Grades on late exams will be lowered one letter grade for each class they are late. Exams are to be printed on white paper with a staple or paper clip in the upper left corner and are not to be placed in folders.

Each of your four responses is to be between 350 and 400 words. (At the end of each response, please provide a word count.) In your double-spaced, typed exam of approximately 1500 words, you are to draw on the primary sources discussed in class and on notes from lectures on these sources. If you wish, you may also use secondary sources. However, full citation of secondary sources is required and may be listed in notes at the end of the exam. (Notes are not to be included in the word count.)
 

I. Hobbes's Leviathan

A. Hobbes's political philosophy helped ground the absolutist ambitions of the British monarchs. In order to develop his argument for absolutism, Hobbes distinguished (Ch 16) natural and artificial persons, as well as authors and actors. How does Hobbes use these distinctions to portray the commonwealth as a person (Ch 17) and the subjects as its author, and why does he argue (Ch 18) that subjects cannot justly accuse the actions of the sovereign?

B. To this day, especially within Realpolitik,Hobbes's political philosophy continues to exert its influence. In placing power at the center of politics, Hobbes presents a state of war as existing before civil society and among nations. What use does Hobbes make between the presence or absence of power in distinguishing justice and injustice (Ch 13 and Ch 15), and, based on the distinction between de facto/ descriptive and de jure/ prescriptive authority, how does Hobbes relate claims of legitimacy by a national government or for an international treaty to the statement "covenants without swords are but words" (Ch 17)?
 

II. Locke's Second Treatise of Government

A. Locke's Two Treatisesserved to justify the Glorious Revolution and the title of William of Orange. In order to develop his argument for limited government, he attached the argument for the divine right of kings and presented an argument for the separation of powers. What is the relation between Locke's liberal political theory and the rise of parliamentary rule in England (specifically the Glorious Revolution), and how does he criticize the divine right of kings and defend the separation of legislative and executive power?

B. In addition to justifying limited government, Locke's Second Treatise legitimates unequal possession. Although Locke advocates equality before the law, he accepts economic inequality by making the preservation of property the aim of political society. What is the relation between Locke's liberal political theory and legal and economic equality in bourgeois society, and how is his view connected to his speculations on the origin and development of property in the state of nature?
 

III. Rousseau's Origin of Inequalityand Social Contractand Mill's On Liberty

A. Whereas Hobbes's absolutist and Locke's liberal political philosophy argue civil society legitimates certain political or economic inequalities, Rousseau's democratic political philosophy argues for egalitarianism. He gives a descriptive critique of inequality in the Origin of Inequality, and he presents his prescriptive model of civil society in the Social Contract. How does Rousseau connect inequality to both property and civil society in the Origin of Inequality, and how does he distinguish the will of all and the general will in relation to both sovereignty and equality in the Social Contract?

B. By the nineteenth century, while liberal societies had been established, they also manifest some problems. In part, Mill's liberalism modifies classical liberalism in a manner designed to address some of these problems, especially ones associated with majority rule. What is Mill's concern about the implications of majority rule on minorities, and how does he justify the rights of minorities in relation to the quest for truth?
 

IV. Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

A. Rousseau's philosophy of education is illustrated in Emile.Wollstonecraft's Rights of Womanis a response not only to Burke's conservative political philosophy but also to Rousseau's philosophy of education. Specifically, Wollstonecraft set forth a very different program for the education of girls. How are Wollstonecraft's ideas about women's virtue reflected in the program of education that she advocates, and how do her ideas about women's virtue fit with her ideas on the relation between the state and the individual?

B. Long before Mill wrote On the Subjection of Women (1869), Wollstonecraft addressed related themes in her Rights of Woman (1792). Specifically, Wollstonecraft includes in this book a program for the education of girls. How do Wollstonecraft's views on women's education follow from her views about human virtue, and how are those views on virtue representative of liberalism?
 

V. Marx's Estranged Labourand On the Jewish Question

A. In his writing on Estranged Labour, Marx develops a four-fold theory of alienation. He views alienation as historical and negative, i.e., it can and should be eliminated. How does Marx distinguish between externalization (Entäusserung) and alienation (Entfremdung) as forms of objectification (Vergegenständlichung), and what is his analysis of the situation in which some groups become alienated from their species being?

B. In On the Jewish Question, Marx draws inspiration from Rousseau's concern for general interest over private interest. Marx's focus is on the insufficiency of political emancipation and the necessity of human emancipation. What is Marx's distinction between political and human emancipation, and how does this distinction serve as a basis for an analysis of the quest for emancipation not only by Jews but also all other oppressed groups?
 

VI. Comparison of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau; Wollstonecraft, Mill, and Marx

A. An analysis of property is central to absolutist, liberal, and democratic political philosophy, and both are associated with the rise of the nation state. What are some of the similarities in the approaches of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, and how do they differ?

B. In her critique of Rousseau, Wollstonecraft defended the rights of women, while Mill modified aspects of Locke's liberal political philosophy and Marx modified aspects of Rousseau's democratic political philosophy. What are some of the shortcomings that Wollstonecraft, Mill, and Marx see in their predecessor, and how do Wollstonecraft's and Mill's liberalism and Marx's socialism attempt to correct these problems?