Sophia on the web

A Resource Guide for Philosophy Students

Created by Jennifer Leslie Torgerson, MA

This page last modified:  October 14, 2012

© copyright, 1997 – present


School of Athens


Political Philosophy


(1) Plato;

(2)  Aristotle;

(3)  Social Contract Theory (Thomas Hobbes, Rousseau, and Locke);

(4)  Marx;

(5) Machiavelli;

(6)  Anarchy

Three political alternatives (3 power paradigms)





Saul D. Alinsky.  Rules for Radicals:  A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals.  (New York, NY:  Vintage Books 1989 [1971]).


Aquinas.  Selected Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas; Robert P. Goodwin, Translator.  (New York, NY:  MacMillan, 1965).


Aristotle, The Politics; Ernest Barker, Editor and Translator.  (London, UK:  Oxford University Press, 1958 [1946]).


Augustine.  The Essential Augustine; Vernon J. Bourke, Editor.  (Indianapolis, IN:  Hackett Publishing, 1974 [1947]).


__________, City of God.  (New York, NY:  Penguin Books, 1984 [1972]). 


__________,  Against the Academicians and The Teacher.  (Indianapolis, IN:  Hackett Publishing, 1995).


Francis Bacon.  The Essays of Francis Bacon or Counsels, Civil and Moral.  (Mount Vernon, NY:  The Peter Pauper Press, no date). 


Jonathan Barnes, Editor; The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation, Two Volumes.  (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1995 [1984]). 


__________, The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle.  (Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University Press, 1996 [1995]).


Cesare Beccaria.  An Essay on Crimes and Punishments; Adolph Caso, Editor.  (Boston, MA:  International Pocket Library, 1992 [1983]).


Steven M. Cahn.  Classics of Political and Moral Philosophy. (Oxford, UK:  Oxford University Press, 2002).  For an abridged version, get the next Cahn text Political Philosophy:  The Essential Texts.


__________,  Political Philosophy:  The Essential Texts.  (Oxford, UK:  Oxford University Press, 2005).  For a more complete collection, get the aforementioned text by Cahn Classics of Political and Moral Philosophy.


Huntington Cairns.  Legal Philosophy from Plato to Hegel.  (Baltimore, MD:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1967 [1949]).


Louis J. Cantori and Andrew H. Ziegler, Jr.; Comparative Politics in the Post-Behavioral Era.  (Boulder, CO:  Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1988 [1987]).


Frederick Copleston, S.J., A History of Philosophy:  Book One.  (New York, NY:  Doubleday, 1985 [1944]). 


__________, A History of Philosophy:  Book Two.  (New York, NY:  Doubleday, 1985 [1944]). 


__________, A History of Philosophy:  Book Three.  (New York, NY:  Doubleday, 1985 [1944]). 


John Dewey.  Freedom and Culture.  (Buffalo, NY:  Prometheus  Books, 1989).


W. E. B. Du Bois.  The Souls of Black Folk.  (New York, NY:  Signet Classic, 1982 [1969]).


Antony Flew.  A Dictionary of Philosophy, Revised 2nd Edition.  (New York, NY:  St. Martin’s Press, 1979). 


Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.  The Federalist Papers; Introduction by Clinton Rossiter.  (New York, NY:  New American Library, 1961).


Georg Hegel.  Reason in History; Robert S. Hartman, Translator.  (Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice Hall, 1953).


Thomas Hobbes.  Leviathan.  (New York, NY:  Collier Books, 1962).


Honer, Hunt, Okholm, Invitation to Philosophy, Issues and Options, 6th Edition (Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Publishing Company, Inc., 1982).


W. T. Jones.  A History of Western Philosophy:  The Classical Mind, 2nd Edition.  (San Diego, CA:  Harcourt Brace, 1980 [1952]).


__________,  A History of Western Philosophy:  The Medieval Mind, 2nd Edition.  (San Diego, CA:  Harcourt Brace, 1980 [1952]).


__________,  A History of Western Philosophy:  Hobbes to Hume, 2nd Edition.  (San Diego, CA:  Harcourt Brace, 1980 [1952]).


__________,  A History of Western Philosophy:  Kant and the Nineteenth Century, 2nd Edition.  (San Diego, CA:  Harcourt Brace, 1980 [1952]).


__________,  A History of Western Philosophy:  The Twentieth Century to Wittgenstein and Sartre, 2nd Edition.  (San Diego, CA:  Harcourt Brace, 1980 [1952]).


Walter Kaufmann, Philosophical Classics Volume I:  Thales to Ockham, 2nd Edition.


Ralph Ketchham.  The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates.  (New York, NY:  Mentor Books, 1986 [1981]). 


Mark R. Levin.  Men in Black:  How the Supreme Court is Destroying America.  (Washington, D. C.:  Regnery Publishing, 2006 [2005]).


__________,  Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto.  (New York, NY:  Threshold Editions, 2009). 


John Locke.  Two Treatises of Government; Peter Laslett, Editor.  (Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University Press, 2004 [1960]).


Niccolo Machiavelli.  The Prince; Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., Translator.  (Chicago, IL:  The University of Chicago Press, 1985).


Alasdair MacIntyre.  After Virtue, 2nd Edition.  Notre Dame, IN:  University of Notre Dame Press, 1984 [1981]).


James Madison.  Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Reported by James Madison, Bicentennial Edition; Introduction by Adrienne Koch.  (New York, NY:  W. W. Norton & Company, 1987 [1966]).


Albert P. Malone and Carl Kalvelage.  Primer on Constitutional Law.  (Pacific Palisades, CA:  Palisades Publishers, 1982).


Karl Marx and Frederick Engles.  The Communist Manifesto.  (New York, NY:  International Publishers, 1986 [1948]).


John Stuart Mill.  On Liberty.  (New York, NY:  MacMillan, 1985 [1956]).


__________, The Subjection of Women; Susan M. Okin, Editor.  (Indianapolis, IN:  Hackett Publishing, 1988).


Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.  Oration on the Dignity of Man.  (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway,  1992 [1956]).


Plato.  Great Dialogues of Plato; W. H. D. Rouse, Translator.  (New York, NY:  Mentor Books, 1956).


__________,  The Republic and Other Works; B. Jowett, Translator.  (Garden City, NY:  Anchor Books, 1973). 


__________,  The Trial and Death of Socrates; G. M. A. Grube, Translator.  (Indianapolis, IN:  Hackett Publishing, 1975).


__________,  Plato:  The Collected Works, including the Letters; Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, Editors.  (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 1994 [1961]).


T. R. Reid.  The United States of Europe:  The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy.  (New York, NY:  Penguin Books, 2005 [2004]).


Jean-Jacques Rousseau.  The First and Second Discourses; Roger D. Masters, Translator.  (New York, NY:  St. Martin’s Press, 1964).


__________, The Social Contract.  (New York, NY:  Penguin Books, 1968).


__________, Emile or On Education; Allan Bloom, Translator.  (New York, NY:  Basic Books, 1979). 


__________,  The Government of Poland.  (Indianapolis, IN:  Hackett Publishing, 1985 [1972]).


__________,  The Basic Political Writings.  (Indianapolis, IN:  Hackett Publishing, 1987).


__________,  Politics and the Arts and Letter to M.D’Alembert on the Theatre; Allan Bloom, Translator.  (Ithaca, NY:  Cornell University Press, The Free Press, 1987 [1960]). 


A. John Simmons.  Political Philosophy.  (Oxford, UK:  Oxford University Press, 2008).


Robert C. Solomon.  Introducing Philosophy:  A Text with Integrated Readings, 9th Edition.  (Oxford, UK:  Oxford University Press, 2008).


Joseph E. Stiglitz.  Globalization and its Discontents.  (New York, NY:  W. W. Norton & Company, 2003 [2002]).


Herbert J. Storing.  What the Anti-Federalists were FOR: The Political Thought of the Opponents of the Constitution.  (Chicago, IL:  University of Chicago Press, 1981). 


Alexis de Tocqueville.  Democracy in America, Volume I.  (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1990 [1945]).


__________,  Democracy in America, Volume II.  (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1990 [1945]).




Political Philosophy

It is claimed by A Dictionary of Philosophy (edited by Antony Flew) that "what is fact presented and discussed under this label often is not, and is still more rarely shown to be, a branch of philosophy as a non-normative conceptional enquiry."

"A course in political philosophy usually takes as its subject matter general justifications for the state and for other political institutions, and for particular actual and imagined ideal forms of these. Besides the state, such other institutions as property, the family, the legal system, government and public administration, international relations, education, class structure, religion, and individual rights, duties, and obligations are discussed. In this environment questions of the sort that are elsewhere rated philosophical are few and far between."

The following is a brief historical review of political philosophy (outline adopted from A Dictionary of Philosophy but with considerable additional materials added) -

Divided into 8 topics: 

I.                   Plato

II.                Aristotle

III.             Medieval Period

IV.              Machiavelli

V.                 Social Contract Theory & Classical and Contemporary Liberalism

VI.              Historical, Idealist, and Marxist forms of Political Theory

VII.           Elitism

VIII.        Anarchy

(1)Plato and his view of the State



Plato's Republic is the first surviving attempt to deal with these problems and is the standard text. The just state, in which everyone and everything fulfills its appropriate function, represents an ideal attainable, Plato suggests, only if kings study philosophy or philosophers became kings. Philosopher is here implicitly defined as one who knows the Forms or Ideas and thus able to know what justice, goodness, etc., really require.   The state is the individual at large (BK 2 Republic)

Plato held that there must be one moral code for the individual and the State, because the State is composed of individual men and exists for the leading of the good life. Because justice is determined by the Ideal Form of Justice, both the individual and the State must live under the influence of the eternal code of justice. In his work the Republic, Plato is not concerned with describing actual states, but in describing what the nature of the Ideal State is, so that actual states can conform themselves as best they can.

In the seventh Letter (written to Dionysius II)

Plato describes how he first had a bad experience with the Oligarchy of 404 BCE, and then with the restored Democracy.

Plato's Ideal State consists of three classes of men (excluding slaves):

(1)   Artisans at the bottom,

(2)  Auxiliaries, or military class over them, and

(3)  Guardians, or Guardian at the top.

The classes as outlined represent justice:

(1)   The wisdom resides in the small class of Guardians;

(2)  Courage of the state is in the class of Auxiliaries; and

(3)  Temperance is represented by the due subordination of the governed to the governing.

Political injustice consists of meddling, which leads to one class interfering with the affairs of another.

While the higher two classes share property in commune, the artisan class retains their property and the family unit. But due to the training and breeding of the Auxiliaries and the Guardians, their family units are destroyed. This is done to ensure that the Guardian class and the Auxiliary class owe their duty to the State, and not their family.  In effect the state has become their family, providing food, shelter, education, and protection.

In the eighth book of the Republic Plato develops a sort of philosophy of history. The perfect State is the aristocratic State (literally, "rule of the best"). Those individuals best able to rule the aristocratic State are those who can apprehend the eternal Forms (Goodness, Truth, Justice, etc.); philosophers are able to apprehend the eternal Forms. Therefore philosophers are best suited to rule, or be 'philosopher-kings." This is a type of elitism, or rule by a select few.  Plato thought that women could too be rulers; but not quite the equal.

"And if so, my friend, I said, there is no special faculty of administration in a state which a woman has because she is a woman, or which a man has by virtue of his sex, but the gifts of nature are alike diffused in both; all the pursuits of men are the pursuits of women also, but in all of them woman is inferior to man." (Republic 455e).

But if the higher two classes of an aristocracy combine to divide the property of the lowest class and reduce them practically to slavery, then aristocracy turns into timocracy (a state in which the honor attached to the position of ruler is sought by the ambitious with intrigue, rather than trust).

Love of wealth grows until timocracy turns into plutocracy or oligarchy (rule by a few rich individuals). Political power is dependent upon property qualifications.

A poverty stricken class is created by the greed oligarchs, and in the end the poor dispel the rich and establish democracy (rule by the people). Democracy is the worst form of government according to Plato because "the government of the many is in every respect weak and unable to do either any great good or any great evil when compared to the others, because in such a State the offices are parceled out among many people." Republic (303 a [2-8] ).

But the love of liberty and majority rule leads to, by way of reaction, to tyranny or dictatorship (absolute rule of one individual). At first the champion of the people executes a coup d’état (surprise attack of the state), and turns into a tyrant.

The Ideal State must be a true Polity. Democracy, oligarchy, and tyranny are all undesirable because the laws passed by such states are passed for the good of a particular class. States which have such laws are parties, and not polities, and their notion of justice is simply unmeaning. But in a true Polity, the laws passed are for the good of the whole State.

The similarity of the state to the soul ~ the state as the individual at large

class of state

faculty of the soul



represent reason

and wisdom.



represent the spirited element

and courage.



represent the appetitive element

and temperance.





Here are few more main ideas or notes, organized by book:



The rings of Gyges story (359c-361)


BOOK 3:  

the metals

"It was quite natural that I should be, I said, but all the same hear the rest of the story. While all of you in the city are brothers, we say in our tale, yet God in fashioning those of you who are fitted to hold rule mingled gold in their generation, for which reason they are the most precious-- but in the helpers silver, and iron and brass in the farmers and other craftsmen.  And as you are all akin, though for the most part you will breed after your kinds, it may sometimes happen that a golden father would beget a silver son and that a golden offspring would come from a silver sire and that the rest would in like manner be born of one another.  So that the first and chief injunction that the god lays upon rulers is that of nothing else are they to be such careful guardians and so intently observant as of the intermixture of these metals in the souls of their offspring, and if sons are born to them with an infusion of brass or iron they shall by no means give way to pity in their treatment of them, but shall assign to each the status due to his nature and thrust them out among the artisans or the farmers.  And again, if from these there are born sons with unexpected gold or silver in their composition they shall honor such and bid them to go up higher, some to the office of guardian, some to the assistantship, alleging that there is an oracle that the state shall then be overthrown when the man of iron or brass is its guardian.  Do you see any way of getting them to believe this tale?" (415 a-c).


metals for each class





Auxiliaries (assistants)








"Then, as I was saying, our youth should be trained from the first in a stricter system, for if amusements become lawless, and the youths themselves become lawless, they can never grow up into well-conducted and virtuous citizens." (425 a)



1.  The only difference between men and women is that the males are stronger and the women weaker. (451e-452e).

2.  The natures of men and women differ; hence they should have different pursuits. (453e).

3.  Women can be guardians, if they are wise, or properly suited to rule. (453).

4.  Men and women doctors have the same nature. (454d).

5.  Women not married, but held in common; children will not know their parents. (457d).

6.  Selective breeding is used to produce the "perfect flock." (459-460).

7.  Breeding done in the prime of life (20 for women and 30 for men). (460e).

8.  "And the city whose state is most like that of an individual man. [...]  The same, he said, and, to return to your question, the best-governed state most nearly resembles such an organism." (462d-e). This is an organic view of state.

9.  Guardians do not own property. (466).

10.  Children are taken to observe war, early in life. (467).

11.  There is a distinction between knowledge and opinion. (477e).

12.  "And likewise of the great and small things, the light and the heavy things-- will they admit these predicate any more than their opposites?  No, he said, each of them will always hold of, partake of, both.  Then is each of these multiples rather than is not that which affirms it to be? They are like the jesters who palter with us in a double sense at banquets, he replied, and resemble the children's riddle about the eunuch and his hitting of the bat-- with what and as it sat on what they signify that he struck it.  For these things too equivocate, and it is impossible to conceive firmly any one of them to be or not to be or both or neither." (479c-d). Hence we are caught between being and non-being (in becoming).



the divided line



the allegory of the cave

the analogy of the sun






(2) This utopian vision was criticized by Plato's pupil, Aristotle in his Politics, which proceeds to present a piecemeal and down-to -earth evaluation of contemporary constitutions and institutions. Nature herself, Aristotle insisted, had established the authority of rulers over the ruled just she had set the masters over slaves, husbands over wives, and fathers over children. The best form of the state in practice must be a mixed and balanced constitution.





The 3 kinds of lives:

(1) Enjoyment

(2)  Political

(3)  Contemplative

The life of contemplation is the best and most happy life.

(Also see 1177 a 15 - 1179 a 1 or page 230 in your text).

"To judge from the lives the men lead, most men, and men of the most vulgar type, seem (not without some ground) to identify the good or happiness with pleasure; which is the reason they love the life of (1) enjoyment.  For there are, we may say, three prominent types of life-- that just mentioned, (2) the political, and thirdly the contemplative life.  [...]  A consideration of the prominent types of lives shows that people of superior refinement and of active disposition identify happiness with honor; for this is, roughly speaking, the end of political life.  But it seems too superficial to be what we are looking for, since it is thought to depend on those who bestow honor rather than on him who receives it, but the good we divine to be something of one's own and not easily taken from one.  Further, men seem to pursue honor in order that they may be assured of their merit; at least it is by men of practical wisdom what they seek to be honored, and among those who know them, and on the ground of their virtue; clearly, then, according to them, at any rate, virtue is better.  And perhaps one might even suppose this to be, rather than honor, the end of political life.  But even this appears somewhat incomplete;  for possession of virtue seems actually compatible with being asleep, or with lifelong inactivity, and further, with the greatest sufferings and misfortunes; | [...] The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion, and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking;  for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else.  And so one might rather take the forenamed objects to be ends, for they are loved for themselves. But it is evident that not even these are ends; yet many arguments have been wasted on the support of them.  Let us leave this subject then."  1095 b 8 -1096 a 13. 

Two kinds of justice defined


Distributive justice:

Person A + thing C to person B + thing D.

The problem of distributive justice is to divide the distributable honor or reward into parts which are to one another as are the merits of the persons who are to participate.  

If A (first person) : B (second person) : : C (first position) : D (second position),

then (by alternando) A : C : : B : D

and therefore (componendo) A + C : B + D : : A : B

In other words the position established answers to the relative merits of the parties.

Aristotle explains:  "As the term A, then, is to B, so will C be to D, and therefore, alternando, as A is to C, B will be to D.  Therefore the whole is in the same ratio to the whole; and this coupling the distribution effects, and, if the terms are so combined, effects justly.  The conjunction, then, of the term A with C and of B with D is what is just in distribution, and this species of the just is intermediate, and the just is proportional.  (Mathematicians call this kind of proportion geometrical; for it is in geometrical proportion that it follows that the whole is to the whole as either part is to the corresponding part.)  1131 b 12-14

Rectificatory justice

In the case of distributive justice the consideration was of man to man or an equal state of affairs, while sometimes there are situations where one is treated unjustly by another and this is a kind of inequality. Judges are used to equalize such inequalities. Aristotle explains:

"This is why, when people dispute, they take refuge in a judge; and to go to the judge is to go to justice; for the nature of the judge is to be a sort of animate justice; and they seek the judge as an intermediate, and in some states they call judges mediators, on the assumption that if they get what is intermediate, they will get what is just.  The just, then, is an intermediate, since the judge is so.  Now the judge restores equality; it is as though there were a line divided into unequal parts, and he took away that by which the greater segment exceeds the half, and added it to the smaller segment.  And when the whole has been equally divided, then they say they have 'their own' -- i.e. when they have got what is equal.  The equal is intermediate between the greater and the lesser line according to the mathematical proportion.  It is for this reason that it is called just (dikaion), because it is a division into two equal parts (dikha), just as if one were to call it dikaion; and the judge (dikastes) is one who bisects (dikhastes).  For when something is subtracted from one of two equals and added to the other, the other is in excess by these two; since if what was taken from the one had not been added to the other, the latter would have been in excess by one only.  | It therefore exceeds the intermediate by one, and the intermediate exceeds by one that from which something was taken.  By this from which has more, and what we must add to that which has less; we must add to the latter that by which the intermediate exceeds it, and subtract for the greatest that by which it exceeds the intermediate.  Let the lines AA', BB', CC' be equal to one another; form the line AA' let the segment AE have been subtracted from the line CC' let the segment CD have been added, so that the whole line DCC' exceeds the line EA' by the segment CD and the segment CF; therefore it exceeds the line BB' by the segment CD.  These names, both loss and gain, have come from voluntary exchange; for to have more than one's own is gaining, and to have less than one's original share is called losing, e.g. in buying and selling and in all other matters in which the law has left people free to make their own terms; but when they get neither more nor less but just what belongs to themselves, they say that they have their own and that they neither lose nor gain.  Therefore the just is intermediate between a sort of gain and a sort of loss, viz, those which are involuntary; it consists in having an equal amount before and after the transaction." 1132 a 25 - 1132 b 14.

                     A       E                 A'


                    B                            B'


            D     C      F                    C'



Justice is reciprocity according to Aristotle

"Some think that reciprocity is without qualification just, as the Pythagoreans said; for they defined justice without qualification as reciprocity.  Now 'reciprocity' fit neither distributive not rectificatory justice-- yet people who want even the justice of Rhadamanthus to mean this:

Should a man suffer what he did, right justice would be done [an eye for an eye in other words]

-- for in many cases reciprocity and rectificatory justice are not in accord; e.g. (1) if an official has inflicted a wound, he should not be wounded in return, and if someone has wounded an official, he ought not to be wounded only but in punishment in addition.  Further, (2) there is a great difference between a voluntary and an involuntary act.  But in associations for exchange this sort of justice [reciprocity] does hold men together-- reciprocity in accordance with a proportion and not on the basis of precisely equal return.  For it is by proportionate requital that the city holds together.  Men seek to return either evil for evil-- and if they cannot do so, they think their position mere slavery-- | or good for good--- and if they cannot do so there is no exchange that they hold together. "  1132 b 14 - 1132 b 33.

Aristotle's view of justice is one of 'giving people what they are due,' or a mean between getting more or less than they are due.

In example a fair exchange would be something like the following:

A and B are workers in different trades, and will normally be of different degrees of 'worth'.  Their products, therefore, will also have unequal worth, i.e. (this equation provided by Ross, and is not present in the text of Aristotle)

A = nB, C (what A makes, say, in an hour) will be worth n times as much as D (what B makes in an hour).  

A fair exchange will then take place if A gets nD and B gets 1 C;

 I.e. if A gives what it takes him an hour to make, in exchange for what it takes B n hours to make. 

We are responsible for bad as well as good actions. 1113 b 1.

Claiming that we ought to act justly, implies that we can act justly, or what is commonly called "ought implies can".  1113 b 6.

To be considered just or unjust, one must act on choice (voluntary not involuntary actions).  1136 a 2.

Choice is only possible in rational animals (humans).  1111 b 3.

When one finds pleasure in doing virtuous acts, it is clear one has attained a virtuous disposition.  1104 b 4.

(3) Political philosophers of the medieval Christian era, particularly St. Augustine and St. Aquinas, considered the place of the state and politics in a Christian view of history and the cosmos. The exciting issues were the contrast between temper oral political order and the hereafter, the divine right of kings to rule, and the relative jurisdictions of secular and religious authorities. These issues dominated the late Roman Empire and the Renaissance.

(4) Niccolo Machiavelli's influential works Discorsi (completed by 1517) and II Principle (1512-1513) recommended the virtues of the Roman republic: unity, discipline, glory, and freedom deriving from an institutional balance between nobility and common people. Christianity, Machiavelli argued, had fostered an otherworldly attitude foreign to classical ideas of citizenship. Machiavelli's attempt at a detached political science and his justification of the economical use of violence to achieve political ends distinguishes his work from that of other medieval theorists.


(5) The problem of the individual and his rights is characteristic of modern political philosophy and it divides it from the earlier classical and Christian traditions, which gave primacy to the requirements of the good state and its advantages for the community at large. It is in this new context that ideas of the social contract have appeal. But talk about a social contract has been employed by many different thinkers for very different purposes, for instance, by Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. The original notion of the social contract is that the members (or the ancestors of the members) of a political society somehow transfer specified rights to the sovereign authority so that other rights, which they retain, may be protected or so that other advantages may be gained.


Locke's Liberalism

Second Treatise of Government (1690) The Two Treatises were published anonymously.

Natural law: The rationally knowable morality which is founded in God's will for His creatures. Moral law is not innate, but deduced from experience.

State of nature: The human condition of natural freedoms and rights prior to the imposition of social organization and regulation (or social contract). It is a state, therefore, that may be thought of as either an alleged historical fact, or a hypothetical claim about what would be or would have been the case, given certain conditions that may or may not have occurred.

"The state of nature has a law to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent , no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions[.]"

Ch. 2, Section 6.

Locke, like Hobbes, introduces the "natural" condition of mankind not as an historical condition existing before the emergence of civil society, but as a logical abstraction from essential nature of man. Though Locke does later say that it may also have been an historical prior condition (¤¤100-112) he presents it as a first logical deduction from the supposed nature of man and the supposed intentions of the Creator, which in turn are deduced from observable biological needs of man.

Social contract: The agreement of a group of people to establish social organizations and regulations for the preservation of basic freedoms and rights.

Tacit consent: The consent and support of social organizations and regulations by virtue of an individual's continued participation in them.

In the liberal tradition, philosophers such as John Stuart Mill have argued for the need to respect the rights of individuals in striking a balance between even the democratic state and its constituents. His On Liberty (1859) is the classic account.

Abuse of power by the state, the question of just rebellion, and the extent of the individual's obligation to obey the state become the central issues. Our participation in existing states, it is sometimes argued, constitutes tacit consent to an informal and unwritten social contract, so our obligations arise as if we had undertaken the contract explicitly. In some 20th century works of political philosophy, such as John Rawls influential A Theory of Justice (1972). The idea of a social contract as the basis of (social) justice has been revived.

(6) Philosophical reactions against theories of the individual and his rights have taken (a) historical, (b) idealist, and (c) Marxist forms.

(a) Edmund Burke: custom and tradition within a particular political community take precedence in politics over any doctrine of what is natural or universal for man.  Although man is born with certain natural God given rights, Burke recognized that such rights are only protected by the authority of a political organization.  Ideal governing is an attempt to preserve universal ideals by appealing to the whole, rather than appealing to changing individual interests.

(b) George W.F. Hegel: idealist philosophers take society to be more real and more fundamental than the individual: it simply makes no sense to talk to the individual as if he were somehow apart from the political relationships and could bring them into existence at will.

(c) Karl Marx: The views of Marx and Engles that history has hitherto consisted of class struggles, and that the state is essentially an instrument for the oppression of one class by another, have led to another sharply different philosophy of politics. In the Marxist view the proletarian revolution will put an end to class oppression and hence the state as we know it.


The 5 stages of communism:

First:  Primitive Communism ~ where we lived in small groups in virtual communism, in an agricultural society.  Working together for the common good is a necessary practice (for things such as defense, shelter, etc.).

Second:  Slave Economy ~ where a small number of individuals controlled all the power and wealth, and all others were reduced to mere slaves who worked long hours, on project such as the pyramids, for the powers that be.  In Egypt, for example, the highest classes included the ruling class, priests, and scribes.  This begins the alienation between the haves and the have nots.

Third:  Feudal Europe ~  Manor living predominates, as serfs set the stage.  People, in large numbers are tied to the land, and bought and sold like property or dirt.  Eventually it is more profitable to leave the serf economy, where serfs worked the land for their land lord in return for a place to live on the land, in a small village or such, with other privilege such as a little hunting, a small common garden, and of course taxes.  Serfs were taxed only 20% of what they made or produced in a year.  It was eventually more profitable to have tenants instead of serfs, and those who could not pay were forced off the land and this lead to a flight to the cities, where some individuals learned trades.  Thus alienation, between the haves and have nots, increases.

Fourth: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat ~  The rise of cities, trades, and commerce creates a new middle class of individuals who only slave to profit or capitalism. This profit is at the expense of the working poor, who work long 20 hour days in hot, dangerous factories producing clothes, and all sorts of things on heavy machinery.  The industrial revolution has produced a new kind of working poor, more alienated than ever before.  This is the time for the proletariat to rise and have a revolution and overthrow its profit hungry oppressors.  Religion is merely the opiate of the masses, and if followed, will cause workers to slave instead of revolt.  They will turn the other cheek, or seek the pie in the sky for their salvation.


Fifth:  The Classless Society where there is no state, and no more alienation.  "To each according to his need, from each according to his ability."

A state cannot decide what our needs are.   A state cannot determine what our abilities are.  A state is a tool for oppression:  one class over another.  Hence, any state (esp. one based on profit), will lead to alienation of one group from another.

(7) Elitism seeks to demonstrate that the nature of human social life is such that rue democracy is impossible and that political decisions must always be in the hands of the elite. If we fail to recognize this truth, and take the democratic ideal to an extreme, we put ourselves in peril of anarchy and no government at all, according to Robert Michels.

(8) Anarchism, as advocated, for example, by Mikhail Bakunin, takes the individual as sovereign and all authority as unjustified repression of the individual’s will.


Three political alternatives:

Adapted from Honer, Hunt, Okholm, Invitation to Philosophy, Issues and Options, 6th Edition (Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth Publishing Company, Inc., 1982), Chapter 11; but with considerable additional materials added.

(1) Concentrated Power (priority of or focus upon the state, duty, conformity, inequality).

(2) Composite Power, or Balanced Power.

(3) Dispersed Power (priority of or focus upon the individual, liberty, rights, equality).

(I) concentrated power:


(A) Plato's Republic: Plato held that the fundamental purpose of the state is to create order in human affairs.  He favored Aristocracy, or rule by the best, which for Plato meant rule by the wise.  Only the wise truly understand the essence of justice, and only they can be trusted to govern (in the ideal state).

(B) Thomas Hobbes said that in the original state of nature human beings are selfish but rational animals living in a material effect>cause world. Each human being struggles to survive and to maximize his or her own pleasure and gain. Individuals are roughly equal in cunning, so their selfish actions result in a war against all. But because they are also rational animals, people see the advantage of entering into an agreement, a "social contract," with others to establish a power that will regulate their behavior in the interest of long-range felicity and survival. Unless human beings contract with one another, life is destined to be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." For Hobbes, the contract once made, cannot be revoked. The protection human beings seek by agreeing to submit to authority is insured only if that authority becomes permanent. Power once gained becomes irrevocable.

(C) For conservatives like Burke, society is seen as an organic but also as a mystic unity linking past, present, and future in a continuous and necessary relationship.  Conservatives wish to maintain certain important ideals throughout the course of time.  Although man is born with certain natural God given rights, Burke recognized that such rights are only protected by the authority of a political organization. 

Edmund Burke held that there are no rights without duties. Individuals have only residual rights and freedoms. They exercise personal choice and control only in those areas where the state shows no interest or claim or jurisdiction. The rights or liberties that do exist are the products of the political organization of society, and political organization is charged with prescribing behavior that will meet the test of established evolving tradition. Burke thoroughly distrusted the masses, especially after the French Revolution (1789-1799). People are not equal in terms of property, etc. (though they have equal natural rights), and popular sovereignty leads only to chaos, cruelty, injustice, and folly. Burke advocates an ideal state.  An ideal state would be governed by a landed aristocracy, capable of enforcing law, protecting property, and maintaining respect for an established church.   When individuals have a stake in state, such as by owning property in that state, those individuals are typically more interested in preserving the laws of the state, for the interest of the whole state, and not based in any particular or local interests.  Burke supported the American Revolution.  In a Speech to the Electors of Bristol (November 3, 1774), after being elected to Parliament, Burke said:

“We are members for a free country; and surely we all know that the machine of a free constitution is no simple thing, but as intricate and as delicate as it is valuable.  We are members in a great and ancient monarchy, and we must preserve religiously the true rights of the sovereign, which form the keystone that binds together the noble and well-constructed arch of our empire and our Constitution.  A Constitution made up of balanced powers must be a critical thing.”

(D) Marxist political philosophy cannot be understood apart from its metaphysics (dialectical materialism) or its economic theory (economic determinism). Metaphysically speaking, Marxism takes a materialistic view of reality. The real world is made of matter and motion, where objects exist and real physical events take place. Human beings and their societies are part of the natural, material, changing reality.

The theory of economic determinism is a logical extension of the materialistic interpretation of history. Marx identified two social classes: one made up of those who control the means of production (capitalists) and the other, of those who work and thus become simply tools of production (proletariat). These two social classes Marx found to be in natural and inevitable conflict with each other, and the struggle for advantage- the power struggle- makes history and brings about social evolution. The determining factor is the economic conflict.

The existence of two social classes in mortal and inevitable conflict over property rights and economic advantages sets up a natural dialectic that produces a new social arrangement. The dialectic is of crucial philosophical importance in Marx's philosophy. The term labels a dynamic process that occurs in three phases: the thesis, the antithesis, and the synthesis. The thesis represents an established state- or condition, in Marxist theory- that is the system of production controlled by the owners, or capitalists (bourgeoisie). Inevitably, this condition generates by its excesses the development of its own opposite, the antithesis. The antithesis is the ever-growing class of workers- the proletariat. The conflict between the thesis and the antithesis continues to the point of explosion (revolution), and from the ashes of the revolution raises the new social order, the synthesis. The synthesis becomes the new thesis and the process begins anew.

(II) Composite or balance positions on power:

IIa. Traditional liberalism:

The traditional notion of liberalism has been challenged in this century, and new meanings have been applied to it. The result is that the term today is ambiguous, and everyone applying the label must specify exactly what they mean. Traditional liberalism gives primacy to the individual and his rights, where prior primacy was given to the state.

John Locke: Locke built his assumption that human beings are by nature moral beings and that there are natural moral rules that they ought to obey. People are born free and equal, with the capacity to make rational choices. They are morally obligated to respect the freedom and self-determination of other people and deal with them on the basis of equality. On these premises Locke fashioned his central principle of the natural rights of every individual. To maintain their natural rights, people voluntarily give up some of their freedom and enter into a social contract to create a political authority capable of preserving these rights and restraining transgressors. It was Locke's view that people of majority consent draw up a contract for the establishment of a government and obligate them to abide by the decisions of the majority. Government authority stems from the act of making a contract, and the power thus is limited by the terms of the contract and is subject to continuous review by the citizens involved. The contract is specific and strictly limited, and the power given up to the government is not absolute or final.

According to Locke, the basic rights that people seek to preserve by political means are the rights of life, liberty, and property. The individual's right to private property is one of the most important guarantees of government. One of the fundamental moral rights retained by the individual is the right to challenge and resist authority. Locke favored a constitutional, representative government and denied the legitimacy of any permanent or absolute ruler. Locke's ideas had a profound impact on the framing of the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Jeremy Bentham: Departing sharply from Locke's emphasis on natural rights, Bentham founded utilitarianism. He insisted that there is only one test of a good government: does it promote the maximum amount of pleasure and the least of amount of pan for its citizens? The question is expressed in the familiar phrase: "the greatest pleasure for the greatest number of people." The Declaration reflected this utilitarian theme when it referred to the right of the pursuit of happiness rather than Locke's "right to property".

John Stuart Mill: Mill actually used the word happiness in his utilitarian theory, and something like his rule utilitarianism is more like what Jefferson intended, but Mill was not born until 1806.

IIb. Contemporary liberalism:

Life, equality, and fraternity- the contemporary liberals feel that the protection of individual rights is only secure when there is a strong sense of community.

John Dewey: Individuals are free as long as they contribute to the shared freedom of all. Dewey's pragmatic philosophy reflects a concern for human equality in which each person is uniquely valuable. Only democracy has a working faith in the possibilities of human nature and a concern for creating the conditions to realize human potentialities.

(Democratic pluralism)

John Rawls: In his A Theory of Justice (1971) Rawls maintains that a well-ordered democratic society would be based on two moral principles of "justice as fairness":

(i) Each person is to have an equal right to basic liberties, compatible with such liberties for all;

(ii) Opportunity, income, wealth, and the basis of self-respect are to be distributed equally, unless an unequal distribution is to the advantage of the least favored.

Rawls seeks to show that his theory of justice provides a firm foundation for those two indispensable principles of Right, whereas the doctrines of utilitarianism, with their exclusive concern for the Good, do not do. Rawls gives priority to the first principle.

Rawls explicitly rejects the position of democratic pluralism (Dewey's position).

(III) Dispersed power:

(A) Anarchists are on the side of reduced or dispersed power and advocate the abolition of the state.


Chart summary of the history of political philosophy * as organized by types of power

I. Concentrated Power  

priority of:

state, duty, conformity, inequality



(1) Plato (elitist) 428-348 BCE


(2) Aristotle (virtue) 384-322 BCE


(3) Augustine 354-431 CE


(4) Aquinas 1225-1274


(5) Machiavelli 1469-1527


(6) Hobbes 1588-1679


(7) Burke (conservative) 1729-1797


(8) Hegel (idealist) 1770-1831


(9) Marx * 1818-1883


(10) MacIntyre (virtue) 1929-

II. a. Classical Liberalism

composite or balanced power



(1) Locke 1632- 1704


(2) Bentham 1748-1832


(3) Mill 1806-1873

II. b. Contemporary Liberalism


(1) Dewey 1859-1952



(2) Rawls 1921-

III. Dispersed Power

priority of:

the individual, liberty, rights, equality


(1) Rousseau ** 1717-1778


(2) Bakunin 1814-1876

Center column represents outline of the “Three Political Alternatives” discussion, yet the chart includes additional political philosophers discussed, but were not discussed within the “Three Political Alternatives” section.

* For Marx the state is the tool for oppression and must be abolished as we know it (5th stage of communism), thus it may seem he fits the dispersed power category.

**general will: "cannot be forced to be free"