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 civico-social self in past and present East and West. Throughout the focus is on the communal character of civic selfhood in classical and contemporary philosophical thought. The course is organized in two parts, devoted to Western and Eastern thinking about the civic self, respectively.
The course will begin with Plato's extended analogy between the soul and city state (polis) in his most famous dialogue, The Republic. The focus here will be on Plato's threefold partitioning of the inner human being and on the corresponding tripartite division of the political whole. Next the course will turn to Aristotle's influential characterization of the human being as a political animal (zoon politikon) in The Politics. The pertinent point here will be the civically conditioned character of the life of a free human being.
From there the course will turn to the modern conception of citizenship in a republicanly constituted state, to be found in Rousseau's influential work, On the Social Contract. The main point here will be the twofold status of the citizens as subject to laws which are of their own making (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. Here the issue will be the dangerous dissociation of the modern individual from immediate civic involvement and direct political influence. In a further 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. 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 final move the course 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.
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, formal class presentations and a term paper.
Plato, The Republic (selections)
Aristotle, The Politics (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
No previous knowledge required.