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Morgan’s Classics of Moral and Political Theory

Book and Readings:

Most of our readings will be drawn from Morgan’s Classics of Moral and Political Theory, Fifth Edition (Hackett, 2011), available at the ASU Bookstore in various formats. All other readings will be supplied via our Canvas site.

CEL 100 – Fall 2020

Final Assignment

Like our midterm, your final assignment (worth 35 points toward your final grade) is an online take-home exercise. It consists of your choice of two essays, weighted slightly differently (20 and 15 points), with specific instructions for each – though, for both, you should assume the same kind of “imaginary reader” that you did for the mid-term, a friend or acquaintance is who ideally intelligent but uninformed. You should submit your essays in a single document (Word, Google, PDF, almost any format will do) on the class Canvas site no later than

Essay 1 (20 points)

The first essay is in what our French friends call the “explication of the text” format. That is, faced with a significant citation from an important text, your task is to explain (“explicate”) what the text means. It’s not as easy as sounds. It’s often difficult even to grasp what a set of sentences simply says: that will typically require you to identify and define crucial terms and concepts; and it often obligates you to paraphrase, sometimes even translate what is being said, into simpler, clearer statements – and, failing that, to acknowledge that sometimes even great writers can contradict themselves or reveal significant tensions in their writing. And that’s not all, since what a text “means,” as opposed to what it simply “says,” will depend on the fact that it is only a part of a whole – that is, you will also have to explain to your reader where this passage fits in the argument and purpose of the larger piece of writing from which it is extracted. Finally, you will want to record some of reaction to the text – appreciation, evaluation (for good or ill), you name it – a conclusion to your “explication,” if you like. In any case, you’ve got a choice of three texts – from Machiavelli, Rousseau, or Nietzsche.

(A) “Nevertheless, since our free will must not be eliminated, I think it may be true that fortune determines one half of our actions, but that, even so, she leaves us to control the other half, or thereabouts. And I compare her to one of those torrential rivers that, when they get angry, break their banks, knock down trees and buildings, strip the soil from one place and deposit it somewhere else . . . But although they are so powerful, this does not mean that men, when the waters recede, cannot make repairs and build banks and barriers so that, if the waters rise again, either they will be safely kept within the sluices or at least their onrush will not be so unregulated and destructive. The same thing happens with fortune. She demonstrates her power where precautions have not been taken to resist her . . . moreover, fortune is a lady. It is necessary, if you want to master her, to beat and strike her. And one sees she more often submits to those who act boldly than to those who proceed in a calculating fashion. Moreover, since she is a lady, she smiles on the young, for they are less cautious, more ruthless, and overcome her with more boldness.” [Machiavelli, Chapter 25 of The Prince]

(B) “I have tried to set forth the origin and progress of inequality, the establishment and abuse of political societies, to the extent that these things can be deduced from the nature of man by the light of reason alone, and independently of the sacred dogmas that give to sovereign authority the sanction of divine right. It follows from this presentation that, since inequality is practically non-existent in the state of nature, it derives its force and growth from the development of our faculties and from the progress of the human mind, and eventually becomes stable and legitimate through the establishment of property and laws. Moreover, it follows that moral inequality, authorized by positive right alone, is contrary to natural right whenever it is not combined in the same proportion with physical inequality – a distinction that is sufficient to determine what one should think in this regard about the sort of inequality that reigns among all civilized people; for it is obviously contrary to the law of nature, however it may be defined, for a child to command an old man, for an imbecile to lead a wise man, and for a handful of people to gorge themselves on superfluities while the starving multitude lack necessities.” [Rousseau, final paragraph of Discourse on the Origins of Inequality]

(C) “Apart from the ascetic ideal, the human animal, had no meaning so far. His existence on earth contained no goal . . . Man, the bravest of animals, and the one most accustomed to suffering, does not repudiate suffering as such; he desires it, he even seeks it out, provided he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose of suffering. The meaninglessness of suffering, not suffering itself, was the curse that lay over mankind so far – and the ascetic ideal offered man meaning! . . . . We can no longer conceal from ourselves what is expressed by all that willing which has taken its direction from the ascetic ideal: this hatred of the human, even more of the animal, and more still of the material, this horror of the senses, of reason itself, this fear of happiness and beauty, this longing to get away from all appearance, change, becoming, death, wishing, from longing itself – all this means, let us dare to grasp it – a will to nothingness, an aversion to life, a rebellion against the most fundamental presuppositions of life. But it is and remains a will . . . And, to repeat in conclusion what I said at the beginning: man would rather will nothingness than not will.” [Nietzsche, Section 28 of Essay Three of The Genealogy of Morals]

Essay 2 (15 points)

Here, instead of an “explication” of a text, you are invited to explore a single important concept or idea – for which citations from our texts (with page numbers in parentheses good enough – no footnotes or bibliographies are necessary) may indeed be helpful. Here, once again, it is crucial to assume the right kind of “imaginary reader”: a friend or acquaintance who is intelligent, but also desperately in need of accurate information. Choose one of the following:

(A) John Locke on “property” – What is John Locke’s understanding of private property in the Second Treatise of Government? How does it fit into the larger argument of the text as a whole?

(B) Immanuel Kant and the “categorical imperative” – What (on earth, or otherwise) is it? How does this notion fit into the larger argument of the Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals?

(C) John Stuart Mill on (what else?) “liberty” – Ho w does he define and approach the topic? And while you’re at it, what about the freedom of women, in his Subjection?

(D) Max Weber on “vocation” or “calling” – How, in the two “vocation lectures,” does Weber approach and define the concept? What do science and politics share as “vocations,” and how do they differ?