IDAHO STATE UNIVERSITY
DEPARTMENT OF POLITICAL SCIENCE
POLS 3313 – INTRODUCTION TO POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY
SPRING SEMESTER 2020 / DR. GABARDI
CRITICAL RESEARCH PAPER GUIDELINES
Three critical research papers are required for this course. Combined they account for 75% of your
grade. These papers are thesis driven and require research on your part beyond our course text and
classroom work. They are designed to get you to further develop skills in several areas – to do
independent research; to enhance your critical thinking skills; to achieve a better knowledge base of
Western political thought; to develop strong, evidence based, and coherent arguments in support of
your thesis; to more objectively evaluate all sides of a research question, argument, or issue; and to
develop writing skills and organization that effectively communicate your thesis and arguments. The
paper questions are directly related to the Western tradition of political philosophy.
General Format Information and Advice
The length of the main body of your paper (not including the title page) should be 8 to 12 pages double
spaced. The paper should include a title page, main body, citations, and worked cited (bibliography). The
general structure of the paper should include an introductory paragraph (a descriptive account of the
question to be answered; why is it relevant?); a clear thesis statement (your answer to the question; tell
the reader what you are going to attempt to prove in this paper in summary form); the main body of the
paper consisting of your arguments and evidence; and a conclusion.
You need to do independent research beyond our class book and consult other scholarly books and
articles. A minimum of 4 sources (not including our required class text) must be consulted. Be sure to
include as one of your reference sources our class textbook by Larry Arnhart. You will be allowed only
one conventional Internet encyclopedia or website source for your paper. A bibliography of Wikipedia
sources is not acceptable as serious university level research.
Analyze all sides of the issue, including arguments that contradict your thesis. Your main focus should
be on the rationality of ideas, theories, and evidence, not justifying your personal ideology. A creative
writing style should be able to capture the reader’s attention in the first paragraph and keep it
throughout the paper. Sloppy errors in spelling, grammar, and sentence structure will undermine the
credibility of your paper. Proofread your papers. Proper citations and a separate bibliography (works
cited page) are required. You are free to choose whatever citation style that suits you. Just be
Since well researched and well written papers are the key to success in this course (accounting for 75%
of the overall grade), I would strongly recommend that you already complete the English component
of your General Education Objectives (especially Critical Reading and Writing) before taking this class.
Plagiarism (using another person’s ideas, written work, or internet website information, and claiming it
as your own by not citing the source) will result in a failing grade. Academic dishonesty is an issue that
many students do not take seriously. Please take it seriously.
Cutting and pasting information from internet websites is not serious research and writing. Do your own
writing. I am looking for clear, concise arguments linked to the reading/research you have done.
Anecdotal storytelling and ideological rhetoric (long rants) weaken your paper. Finally, turn your work in
on time. I accept late papers only one or two days after the deadline when papers are due and lower
your grade depending upon how late it is. After three days I do not accept late papers.
Second Paper Third Paper
Hard copy due in class on Tuesday, March 3
Hard copy due in class on Tuesday, April 7
Hard copy due in the Political Science Department office on Monday,
Students will have the option of choosing for one of these papers a different political thinker
from the mandatory group we will be reading and discussing in class. If you decide to choose this
option you must discuss it with me beforehand.
Questions for the First Critical Research Paper
(Choose only one question to write your paper on)
1) If you were a member of the Athenian jury at the trial of Socrates how would you have voted
(guilty, or not guilty) and why? In constructing your answer be sure to speak to the political and
historical situation at this time, the charges against Socrates, and the content of Plato’s Apology
which presents the main arguments of Socrates’ defense speech. Finally, what in your opinion
are the larger political and philosophical lessons of the trial of Socrates?
2) Is justice conventional or natural? In the first two books of Plato’s Republic all of the participants
believe that justice is conventional or political. Only Socrates believes that justice is the natural
fulfillment of human nature. Explain the conventional vs. the natural arguments for justice as
you understand them. In your informed opinion, is justice more of a conventional or political
idea, or does it speak to something more universal? Finally, define your idea of justice. Justice is
……? Justify your definition of justice.
3) Explain the main parts of Plato’s utopian model of the ideal city-state in the Republic. Identify
what you believe to be the main strengths and also the main weaknesses of this model, and
explain why. Why does Plato believe his model would work? Or does he? Do you believe it
would work (perhaps with a few adjustments)? Finally, while Plato designed his ideal model in
order to communicate to his fellow ancient Athenians the need for serious reforms of their
society, are some of his suggestions and beliefs relevant to the modern world we live in today?
4) Why was Plato so critical of democracy? Explain both his philosophical and political opposition
to democracy as both a way of life and a political model of governance. Why does democracy
rate so low on Plato’s scale of preferred political regimes? Is Plato’s rejection of democracy
justified in your reasoned opinion? Can you muster a strong argument in response to Plato
proving the superiority of democracy to his ideal of elite rule by wise philosophers?
5) In his Politics, Aristotle spends a lot of time focusing on the distinction and relationship between
private life (the household) and the public life of the citizen. Explain Aristotle’s view of private
and public life and why he believes it is important. Which aspects of his views do you think are
outdated and why? Compare and contrast Aristotle’s idea of citizenship with the modern
requirements and expectations for citizenship in today’s democratic society. Can we learn
anything from the importance Aristotle gives to the ideal of citizenship?
6) Aristotle called his ideal political model the “polity.” What are the main elements that make up
this model? Then critically compare and contrast the main features of both Plato’s and
Aristotle’s models. Is Aristotle’s model an improvement over Plato’s ideal model? If so, why?
Questions for the Second Critical Research Paper
(Choose only one question to write your paper on)
1) Summarize the central concepts and principles of Machiavelli’s political teaching. What “advice”
given by Machiavelli to the statesman in The Prince is still relevant to contemporary politics?
What “advice” is not relevant at all to present day politics? Be specific with your examples and
be sure to give reasons why your chosen examples of modern politics validate or do not validate
Machiavelli’s key ideas or advice.
2) The political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan (1651) consists of 3 major steps in his
logical argument – step 1 – the state of nature; step 2 – the covenant or social contract; step 3 –
the creation of a sovereign state and definition of its authority and obligations. Which step (or
steps) in his argument are the most convincing in your informed opinion and why? Which step
(or steps) are the least convincing and why?
3) John Locke’s political philosophy of liberalism in his Second Treatise (1689) sought to improve
upon Hobbes’s attempt to reconcile individual liberty and sovereign authority. Point out as
many differences as you can find between Locke’s political theory and that of Hobbes. Choose
one difference that you agree with Locke on and one difference you agree with Hobbes on and
then explain why in much more detail.
4) Why was Locke confident that effective and legitimate government could be limited? What
specific mechanisms in his model of government limit its power? Do you believe the way the
world operates today that we can effectively function with very limited government? Why or
5) Compare the main features of Locke’s model of government with the government designed by
the American Founding Fathers in the United States Constitution. Evaluate key similarities and
differences between Locke and the U.S. Constitution/Bill of Rights. Finally, which aspects of the
U.S. Constitution do you think are obsolete or do not work well in the 21st century world? Why?
Questions for the Third Critical Research Paper
(Choose only one question to write your paper on)
1) Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed human nature was essentially good and that civilization, in
particular modern civilization, had a corrupting influence on human behavior. Explain how and
why Rousseau believed this. What was his idea of human nature? How and why does modern
civilization, in Rousseau’s opinion, turn us into aggressive, self-centered, status seeking, money
and consumer oriented people? Do you agree with Rousseau? Finally, do you think it is possible
to live a simple, relatively self-sufficient , small community life close to nature?
2) Rousseau’s political theory was developed as an alternative to the dominant forces of modern
political life – liberalism and capitalism. Compare and contrast Rousseau’s main political ideas
with those of modern liberalism. Which ideas of Rousseau have merit in your opinion and why?
Which of his ideas fail to convince you in their critique of liberal capitalism and why?
3) Rousseau’s ideal political vision involved creating a political community that was small, largely
agrarian and artisan based (non-industrial), and that valued community and equality over
individual liberty. The heart and regulative force of this ideal community was realized in his idea
of “the general will.” Explain Rousseau’s idea of the general will. How does it work? Do you think
Rousseau’s ideal political model could work? Why or why not?
4) Explain, using Marx’s main concepts and analysis, why he was convinced that capitalism is both
unjust and historically destined to collapse from its internal contradictions? Do you agree with
his analysis? Since capitalism is alive and well, why do you think it has survived longer than Marx
probably thought it would?
5) Why did Marx believe that socialism was ethically, economically, and politically superior to
liberal capitalism? Do you find his arguments in favor of socialism convincing? Why?
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