Course Syllabus

PHIL 122.01 Political Philosophy

MW 1:30-2:45 Mendocino 1003

Instructor: Prof. Kyle Swan

Contact: Canvas message

Office hours: Monday, Wednesday 12pm-1pm in Mendocino 3030 or by appointment


From the catalogue:
A philosophical examination of the individual, the community, and rights; the conflict between individual rights and the common good; various conceptions of justice, equality, liberty and the public good; and the relationship of politics to ethics, economics, law; war and peace.

Economic growth is a very great good. Other things being equal, it's better to be wealthy rather than poor. Life in Canada is better than life in Haiti. Life in Denmark is better than life in Burkina Faso. These spatial comparisons are interesting, but temporal ones are, too. For example, life in 2021 United States is better than life in 1904 United States. In 1961, South Korea standards of living were comparable to countries in sub-Saharan Africa. But today, life in South Korea is just as comfortable as life in Sweden (and more so if you hate the cold). The economist Tyler Cowen notes that, in the years 1870 to 1990, if the United States had grown just one percentage point less per year, in 1990 the US would have had the same standard of living as Mexico. Because of the magic of compounding interest, if you can boost the growth rate of a country by two percentage points a year, after 55.5 years income levels are three times higher than they would have been.

But how does the value of economic growth interact with other values, like human rights, social justice, equality/equity, and sustainability?

Learning Outcomes

By the conclusion of this course, it should be true that students (a) understand the moral and political issues that affect questions of the appropriate role of corporations in a just society and are able to (b) apply this understanding to make sense of existing social practices and institutions (c) analyze current problems and controversies and (d) evaluate proposed solutions to them. You will need to give evidence of your ability to understand, apply, analyze and evaluate in your writing and contributions to class discussions.

Phil 122 is a GE course in area C2. Area C2 learning outcomes are that you:

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of the conventions and methods of the study of the humanities.
  2. Investigate, describe, and analyze the roles and effects of human culture and understanding in the development of human societies.
  3. Compare and analyze various conceptions of humankind.
  4. Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the historical development of cultures and civilizations, including their animating ideas and values.

Texts, Assigned Readings

There is no text to purchase. Click links to readings as shown in the Weekly Schedule and Modules.


The course is graded on 100pts (1pt = 1%), with these point thresholds:

A 93+

A- 90

B+ 88

B 83

B- 80

C+ 78

C 73

C- 70

D 60

F <60

Reading and Lecture Quizzes (5 x 5pts = 25pts)

There will be five quizzes with questions based on assigned readings and lectures.

Critical Précis (5 x 5pts = 25pts)
You will be required to write and submit five short critical précis papers. Each of these will consist of a 400-500 word summary and explication of an assigned article or chapter. The schedule is this: submit 2 in September, 2 in October, and 1 in November. Your précis will be uploaded in the Assignment folder.

I require that you follow quite closely the "method of successive elaboration" for completing these précis assignments, described here. Following this method should help to avoid writing poor, surface-level, generic summaries. The most common way of writing a poor summary is to simply restate a number of things in the assigned reading. But I don’t want a listing of things the author says; rather, I want to see that you can identify the key idea in the reading and explain the author’s argument(s) for that idea. Focus. Go for depth of explanation, rather than breadth of coverage.

Midterm exam (25 points) On or around October 13.

Final exam (25 points) See University Final exam schedule.

Course Policies and Expectations

As much as possible, our class time will be discussions of assigned readings, rather than me lecturing at you. It is therefore essential that you come to class having done the reading, and with something to say. That doesn’t mean you have to have a brilliant original analysis of the text or a knock-down argument against ideas presented therein. A question is something to say, too. Good questions will critically engage the readings by probing ideas that you find surprising or ones that clash with your presuppositions. In any case, you need to show up ready to actively engage with the text. If that sounds interesting and exciting to you, then this should be a very rewarding class. If not, then you might want to look elsewhere.

Diversity and Respect: CSUS attracts a diverse population of students, faculty and staff with a wide range of cultural norms, lifestyles, beliefs and backgrounds. Opinions may vary on many issues, but students and faculty in this course will be expected to converse and debate in a respectful and tolerant manner.

This course will only be successful if everyone feels free to express her/his views and personal understanding of the course material.  Let us all be mindful and respectful of each other’s opinions.  Everyone has a responsibility to make the course environment a place where we can respectfully agree to disagree, and perhaps even settle some long unsettled questions. 

All assignments are due at the date and time specified in the assignment. If you know you will not be able to meet a due date, it is your responsibility to consult with the instructor before the assignment is due. When submitting any assignment in Canvas, ALWAYS check its status to ensure it was submitted. It is your responsibility to ensure your assignment was submitted accurately and timely. Do not wait for the instructor to ask you about it or for a “0” to appear in your grade column!

No extensions, no exceptions. It is your responsibility to know the due dates and to plan accordingly. Leaving an assignment until the day or two prior is risky and makes you more vulnerable than you already are to factors and events in the universe beyond your control!

Plagiarism and cheating are serious academic offenses which will not be tolerated in this class. Assignments in which plagiarism or other forms of cheating are found will at the least be graded at 0 (not just an F). Incidents of cheating and plagiarism may be reported both to the Department Chair and to the Judicial Officer in the Office of Student Affairs for possible further administrative sanction. It is your responsibility to know and comply with the University’s Academic Honesty Policy. 

Students who have a documented disability (visible or invisible) and require accommodation or assistance with assignments, tests, attendance, note taking, etc., must contact the instructor by the end of the second week of the term so that  arrangements can be made. Failure to notify and consult with the instructor by this date may impede his ability to offer you the necessary accommodation and assistance in a timely fashion. Also be sure to consult with the Services to Students with Disabilities to see what other campus services and accommodation options are available for you. All information will remain confidential.

Students with other types of accommodation requirements, such as English as a second language, are invited to discuss them with the instructor to facilitate understanding and the best learning experience for all. All information will remain confidential.

Course Schedule

See “Modules” section for the schedule of topics and readings.

Course Summary:

Date Details Due