Günter Zöller (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität)


From 9:15
to 10:45
From 9:15
to 10:45

Course Description

The course will investigate the relation between the individual and civil society in a comprehensive perspective that encompasses the ancient and the modern world, in addition to spanning Western European and East Asian cultures. The focus is on philosophical accounts of the civic-social self in the past and the present in the East and the West. Throughout the focus will be on the communal character of civic selfhood in classical and contemporary philosophical thought. The course will be organized in two parts, devoted to Western and Eastern thinking about the civic self, respectively.
The course will begin with the dramatic representation of emerging civic life by two Greek tragedies, Sophocles' Antigone (441 BCE), which portrays the conflict between unwritten, family-based law and positive, state-issued law, and Aischylus' Oresteia (458 BCE), which features the replacement of personal revenge and family feuding through public justice and civil courts.
Next the course will discuss Plato's extended analogy between the soul (psyche) and the city state (polis) in his most famous dialogue, The Republic (ca. 380 BCE). The focus here will be on Plato's threefold partitioning of the inner human being and on the corresponding tripartite division of the body politic.
Next the course will turn to Aristotle's influential characterization of the human being as a “political animal” (zoon politikon) in The Politics (ca. 350 BCE). The pertinent points here will be the distinction between the private and the public sphere and the civically conditioned character of the life of a free human being.
Moving from classical antiquity to modern times, the course will draw on Montesquieu's comprehensive comparative study of political society in On the Spirit of the Laws (1748). Here particular attention will be devoted to the republican principle of the rule of law and the mutual requirement of freedom and law.
From there the course will turn to the modern conception of citizenship in a republican constituted state, to be found in Rousseau's influential work, On the Social Contract (1762). The main point here will be the twofold status of the citizens as subject to laws that are of their own making (self-legislation, autonomy).
Then the course will turn to the contrastive comparison of ancient and modern civic life, as detailed by Benjamin Constant in his discourse, On the Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns (1819). Here the issue will be the momentous dissociation of the modern individual from immediate civic involvement and direct political influence.
In a next move the course will address Hegel's influential distinction between the social spheres of civil society and the state in his comprehensive account of modern social life, Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1820). The chief concern here will be with the functional division of the modern human being into the city burger and the state citizen.
In a major further move the course then will compare and contrast the ancient and modern Western conception of civic life analyzed so far with Eastern ways of describing and prescribing the individual's relation to a social and civil whole. The focus here will be on Confucian social and civic ethics in the specifically different but structurally akin relations between ruler and ruled and parents and children. The primary text here will be the posthumous collection of Confucius' teachings and conversations, The Analects. In concluding, the course will consider the nature and significance of the contemporary revival of ancient Confucian ethical thought in an otherwise increasingly modernized East Asian world.

Learning Outcomes

Students will acquire historical and philosophical knowledge about the relation between ancient and modern as well as European and Asian conceptions of political society, improve their skills in the analysis of philosophical texts and problems, and enhance their ability to discuss complex theoretical issues in written and spoken academic English.

Teaching and Evaluation Methods

The course will be taught as a seminar with substantial and regular student participation, including formal presentations, moderated discussions and writing assignments. The final grade will be based one third each on active class participation, a formal class presentation and a term paper.


Orientation week
Week 1 Introduction: the ancients and the moderns; Sophocles: the family and the state
Week 2 Aischylus: service and sacrifice; revenge and justice
Week 3 Plato: psyche and polis; philosophers and rulers
Week 4 Aristotle: oikos and polis; democracy and polity
Week 5 Montesquieu: republican government and despotic rule; law and freedom
Week 6 Rousseau: state of nature and civil state; democracy and republic
(Week 7 Mid-term break)
Week 8 Kant: the idea of the republic; law and ethics
Week 9 Hegel: civil society and the state
Week 10 Constant: ancient and modern liberty; the public and the private
Week 11 Confucius: the sage and the ruler
Week 12 Modern Confucianism: ethos and civility
Week 13 Modern China: democracy and meritocracy
(Week 14 Final exams)

Sophocles, Antigone (selections)
Aischylus, The Oresteia (selections)
Plato, The Republic (selections)
Aristotle, The Politics (selections)
Montesquieu, On the Spirit of the Laws (selections)
Rousseau, On the Social Contract (selections)
Constant, On the Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns
Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right (selections)
Confucius, The Analects (selections)

Stephen C. Angle, Contemporary Confucian Political Philosophy. Cambridge: Polity, 2012
Daniel A. Bell (Ed.), Confucian Political Ethics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008
Daniel A. Bell, The China Model: Political Meritocracy and the Limits of Democracy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015
Joseph Chan, Confucian Perfectionism: A Political Philosophy for Modern Times. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013



Week 1 Sophocles
_1a General introduction
_1b Sophocles, The family and the state: Antigone

Weeks 2 Aeschylus
_2a Service and sacrifice: Agamemnon
_2b Revenge and justice: The Eumenides

Week 3 Plato
_3a psyche and polis
The Republic
Bk. 2 368c-369b (soul to city), 373b-381d (guardians), 394a-403d (poetry), 412b-415d (rulers, noble lie 414f.)
Bk. 4 433b-441c (justice)
_3b Philosophers and rulers
The Republic
Bk. 5 472d-474a (p. 166; philosophers kings)
Bk. 7 514a-520d (cave)
Bk. 8 543a-545e (oligarchic, democratic, tyrannical constitutions), 555b-561e (democracy)
Bk. 9 571a-573d (tyrannical man)

Week 4 Aristotle
_4a oikos and polis: The Politics
Book 1, Chapters 1-3, 13
Book 3, Chapters 1-9, 18
_4b Democracy and polity: The Politics
Book 7, Chapters 1-3, 13-15
Book 8, Chapters 1-3

Week 5 Montesquieu
_5a Republican government and despotic rule: The Spirit of the Laws
Book 1, Chapters 1, 3
Book 2, Chapters 1-5
Book 3, Chapters 1-11
_5b Law and liberty: The Spirit of the Laws
Book 8, Chapters 1-21
Book 11, Chapters 1-20
Book 12, Chapters 1-30

Week 6 Rousseau
_6a State of nature and civil state: The Social Contract, Book 1, Chpt. 1-9
_6b Democracy and republic: The Social Contract, Book 2, Chpt. 1-12

Week 7 Midterm

Week 8 Kant
_8a The Platonic Republic: Critique of Pure Reason (brief selection)
_8b The public and the private: What is Enlightenment?

Week 9 Hegel
_9a Civil society: Philosophy of Right, §§ 189-198
_9b The state: Philosophy of Right, §§ 257-269

Week 10 Constant
_10a Ancient and modern liberty: On the Liberty of the Ancients, first half
_10b The public and the private: On the Liberty of the Ancients, second half

Week 11 Confucius
_11a The sage and the ruler (1): Analects, Books 1-4
_11b The sage and the ruler (2): Analects, Books 5-6 and 12-13

Week 12 Modern Confucianism
_12a Ethos and civility (1): Angle, Contemporary Confucian Political Philosophy, Chpt. 1-4
_12b Ethos and civility (2): Angle, Contemporary Confucian Political Philosophy, Chpt. 5-6 and 12-13

Week 13 Modern China
_13a Democracy and meritocracy (1): Bell, The China Model, Chpt. 1
_13b Democracy and meritocracy (2): Bell, The China Model, Chpt. 2

Week 14
Term paper

No previous knowledge required.


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