Ancient And Medieval Political Thought
Write an essay of eight double-spaced pages, set in 12-point Times New Roman, addressing one of the following topics. Your essay must contain a clearly identifiable argument that explicitly answers all parts of one of these questions and is supported by plausible interpretation of lots and lots of evidence from the text. The most important part of your argument should be stated concisely and compellingly in the last sentence of your first paragraph. (An eight-page paper ends near the bottom of the 8th page.)
Identify which topic you’re addressing by retyping the question, single-spaced in 10-point font, before the first paragraph of your paper. Be sure to give your paper a meaningful title. I recommend that you avoid starting your essay with a dictionary definition or with a phrase like “Throughout human history” or “Since the dawn of time….”
- Every account of collective political liberation is told from some point of view. Aristotle’s notion of freedom revolves around an active citizen. The inactive so-called “citizens” and others who refuse to deliberate are the only ones who are ‘justly’ slaves, from Aristotle’s point of view, and therefore they contribute to the polis with their work. Exodus details a long process of liberation told from the point of view of the enslaved, who need to be freed not only from work, but from enslavement to desires that contributed to their enslavement. What crucial insights does each of these perspectives offer on liberation? What does each perspective leave out? What synthesis would you offer as a more complete picture of liberation?
- Aristotle’s polis and Cicero’s res publica offer anthro- or human-centric pictures of community, as created by a deliberation over the good or agreement on law and common interests. Five Books of Moses sets aside “the human” as a basis for community, and offers “covenant” in its place. Augustine demotes Civitas Terrena as a site of human fulfillment, offering Civitas Dei as the true alternative. Put two of these accounts into conversation around the question of whether and how “the human” is sufficient or insufficient as a source for a politics of the good life. What dilemmas or problems does such a conversation reveal?
Which account offers the most compelling resolution of the dilemmas or problems, and why?
(Note: you may not pair Aristotle and Cicero to answer this question.)
- Consider how Aristotle describes the polis in The Politics, as a means of identifying spaces of deliberation and freedom, alongside Augustine’s picture of the idealized Civitas Dei, as an authoritative means for realizing people’s potential. Each urges his audience to think in new ways about the relation of that freedom and that potential to embodiment. What is each author’s way of thinking about the body, and which of these in your view offers the most potential as a model for a citizen’s relation to his (or even her) own body? (Note: focus your discussion of Aristotle’s theorization of the polis in books I and III.)
- Aristotle, Cicero, and Augustine implicitly draw upon different conceptions of time (which the lectures have framed as telos, foundings, and æternitas) as they theorize how to ward off political corruption or degeneration. Choosing two of these texts and their respective assumptions about time and theorization of politics, first analyze how different conceptions of time support divergent ways of thinking about degeneration. What’s the most politically attractive way to avoid political degeneration, and what concept of time should we therefore endorse in our theorizing? End your essay by briefly reflecting on what your answer would mean for thinking about political corruption today.
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