Monday, May 02, 2011

The history of political thought: a pictoral tour

My exams--by which I mean generals/comps/quals/whatever they were called in your department--are next Thursday. In preparation, I've been reading and going over my old notes and such things, and it occurred to me that perhaps you too would like to learn about my exam field: political theory--ancient, medieval, and modern. Technically, it only includes one medieval author--Aquinas--and only tiny excerpts of him at that (excerpts of the excerpts!), so I personally am in favor of abolishing the pretense that anyone in my department has actually studied something called "medieval political thought," although I did once pick up a copy of John of Salisbury's Policraticus, but I flipped open to a long discussion of whether witches are real (no) and got bored and put it back down. So much for that. Also, by "modern," we only mean to "up to Nietzsche," since everything after him is called "contemporary" and, in an unusual display of pedagogical reaction on the part of the department, we have not been made responsible for that. Conveniently, my notes contain many useful illustrations of the subject matter we do have to cover, which I will share with you below the fold. As you will see, these illustrations touch on all the main points of these texts.

1. Plato
Student question: What would Thrasymachus do if the dialogue was set in winter?

2. Aristotle
Same student as above asked a question I no longer specifically recall, but it was something about ruling in relation to parts and wholes, using the example of cutting a baguette

Professor: Numbers in Aristotle are always numbers of something, not abstractions, because the form can only exist in the matter. Like when you take plates out of the dishwasher and stack them--one dish, two dishes, three dishes, four dishes... [Not pictured here but added immediately afterward, "Also, one apple, two apples, three apples, four apples...]

3. Stoics and Epicureans
The paradox of the heap: how many stones makes "a heap of stones"?

4. Short Break: A goose

5. Machiavelli
Professor: Can philosophers be thumotic? The Germans did not think so.

6. Hobbes
This is apparently a direct quote from the lecture. I don't understand it; it's British.

7. Kant
Professor: Kant believes that his law extends to all rational creatures, including Wookies.

8. Short Break #2: An important spring semester question
Answer: Because the school believes in sustainability and uses only "organic fertilizers."

9. Hegel

10. Marx
Explanation unavailable.

11. The post-exam future
Professor: Do you know what's really fascinating? The English garrison at Utrecht in the 17th century. No one has done sufficient work on it yet. [10 more minutes on history of the English garrison at Utrecht.] One of you should really learn Dutch and do a dissertation on the topic. It's a fascinating question.

12. What I will miss now that coursework is over


Julia said...

I love all of this. A great deal.

Withywindle said...

You should read A Porcine History of Philosophy and Religion, if you haven't already.

Emily Hale said...

I love it, too.

Tae-Yeoun Keum said...

who among us in Hobbes is good enough at life to have investments??

oh, hi. my generals are tomorrow, and i'm giving up.

alex said...

No cameo appearances from Nigel?

Miss Self-Important said...

Julia and Emily: The compressed version of two years of classes is easier to love than the extended cut.

Withy: No Google books preview. How can I believe it until I preview it?

Tae-Yeoun: Well, "good at life" might not be the most apt description for JE, but he does have investments.

Good luck! You will do fine. Just remember gerontophilia and you won't even be nervous. I just walked past Jen's room, and she was holding forth like a pro. (Well, I couldn't actually hear what she was saying b/c the door was closed, but Tuck looked convinced.)

Alex: Yes, there were cats, but they didn't make the cut for the blog. Goose was selected instead.

Jacob T. Levy said...

re: the lack of medieval-- shameful, really.

Jennie said...

good luck! not that you need it :)

i hear you on the lack of medieval texts ... i was flat-out told that i didn't need to cover the medieval thinkers for my comps.

hardlyb said...

Mrs. S-I: Wow, math quals were very different. And I don't think anyone had pictures in their notes, either.