Term Paper Topics

(partial list)

1. You are free to write on any topic related to political philosophy, but if you choose your own topic you must discuss it with me before you begin working on it. That way I can help you in a variety of ways, but especially to avoid tackling topics that cannot be well treated in a relatively short essay.

2. Plato and Hobbes both defend an absolutist state in which the ruler or rulers cannot be held accountable by the population and in which absolute obedience is called for. Yet their absolutist states are very different. Write an essay explaining how they differ and what features of Hobbes' and Plato's general philosophical positions are responsible for the differences.

3. As I mentioned in class, Shakespeare's play, Troilus and Cressida (the opening of which Hobbes could have seen as a teenager) is concerned with the breakdown of social order, as that social order was understood by late medieval political philosophy. Write an essay comparing that view of society and government to Hobbes' view and explaining how Hobbes' view could be seen as a response to the problems Shakespeare is concerned with. This topic is difficult and might call for some additional reading. On the other hand, it's an excuse to read some Shakespeare, even if not his best play.

4. Read Chapter 3 of Gregory Kavka's book, Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory, and write an appraisal of his account of Hobbes' argument that the state of nature will be a state of war.

5. In section 4.3 of Hobbesian Moral and Political Theory, Gregory Kavka offers his analysis of Hobbes' discussion of the "Fool", who argues that keeping contracts is irrational whenever one can expect to do better by breaking them. Discuss Kavka's analysis and compare it to your own analysis of the passage or the analysis discussed in lecture.

6. Write an essay comparing Hobbes' and Locke's views of the laws of nature and of the role of the laws of nature in their political philosophy.

7. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau are all concerned with freedom . Write an essay comparing the views of freedom of two of these three (or even all three) concerning some aspect of the definition of freedom or the role of the notion of freedom in political philosophy.

8. Hobbes has a serious problem explaining why self-interested rational individuals will comply with the social contract. His answer to the Fool's objection that it will sometimes be advantageous not to keep one's promises is to insist that it's never rational to believe that one can get away with injustice. In Chapter 6 of Morals by Agreement, David Gauthier tries to give a better answer. Write an essay studying Gauthier's response and appraising it.

9. Read Isaiah Berlin's famous essay, "Two Concepts of Liberty," (which can be found in his book, Four Essays on Liberty) and discuss how his notions of liberty compare with the views of liberty in one or more of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, or Mill.

10. Read Gerald MacCallum's essay, ‘Negative and Positive Freedom’, Philosophical Review, 76 (1967), pp. 312-34 (available in JStore) either in combination with Berlin or by itself and comment on the extent to which his analysis of freedom helps to clarify the views of one or more of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, or Mill.

11. Read Bernard Williams' 1962 essay, "The Idea of Equality," (pdf available from Dan Hausman) and comment on the relations between his view of equality and the notions of equality found in Rousseau. Is Williams more or less of an egalitarian than is Rousseau.

12. Read "Against Equality," by J. R. Lucas (Philosophy, Vol. 40, No. 154, Oct., 1965, pp. 296-307 pdf available from J-Store or from Dan Hausman) and consider his arguments against egalitarianism. To what extent are they consonant with or in conflict with the views of Locke or Rousseau?

13. In The German Ideology, Marx sketches a view of the historical development of human beings in society. Compare Marx's view to Rousseau's.

14. Read either chapter 6 ("Communitarianism") or chapter 7 ("Feminism") of Will Kymlicka's, Contemporary Political Philosophy and write an essay consider the criticisms of liberal political philosophy (particularly as found in Locke and Mill) communitarians or some feminists have made.

15. In Chapter 2 of his book, No Smoking, Robert Goodin makes an argument for outlawing smoking. How does his argument respond to the anti-paternalist arguments Mill makes in On Liberty? What do you think should be the policies concerning smoking, and how would you defend your views?