Political Science 59 The Politics of Moral Reasoning


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Political Science 59

The Politics of Moral Reasoning

Professor Dumm

Spring, 2009

This course is interested in the politics of the ordinary. It is a basic assumption of this course that how we reach decisions while going about our ordinary lives is worth examining for its own sake, but also because our decisions have ramifications for our larger political life together. Our guide in the formulation and execution of this course is a work by Stanley Cavell entitled Cities of Words, which will serve as the core text. That book is an attempt to reproduce a course he taught for years at Harvard called “Moral Reasoning.” Since that course makes use of some classic works of political theory, we have an opportunity to explore issues in political theory through a slightly different lens that simply that of a history of political thought. Coupled with each thinker we examine is a work from the classic period of American film, which will serve as prompts for further discussions of their themes.


Attendance is mandatory, which is to say unexcused absences are not permitted, and will be penalized at my discretion. All reading and viewing is expected to be completed before the class meeting at which pertinent discussion is scheduled. Thoughtful participation in discussion is encouraged, and up to 5% of your final grade will be determined by my evaluation of how well you participate in class (my criteria do not include how much you talk, but it does include how well). There will be three paper assignments each constituting roughly 33% of the grade. I realize that this adds up to 104%, which simply means I will exercise discretion concerning final grades that are on the cusp between, say, a B plus and an A minus.

Books for purchase are on sale at Amherst Books in downtown Amherst.
Stanley Cavell, Cities of Words (Harvard)

John Locke, The Second Treatise on Government (Hackett)

John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women (Dover Thrift)

Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House (Dover Thrift)

As many other readings as is possible will be assigned from online websites. There is also a multilith of readings for sale in the Political Science Department Office.

Course films will be screened on Wednesdays at 4:30 and 7:30. All of these films are also available on DVD on reserve in the Amherst College Library. They will also be streamed on the Amherst Library website. Those students not enrolled at Amherst College will be given access to these films via password. The following are our films in the order in which they will be screened, along with the name of the pertinent thinker under examination.

The Philadelphia Story (1940, George Cukor) Emerson

Adam’s Rib (1949, George Cukor) Locke

Gaslight (1944, George Cukor) Mill

It Happened One Night (1933, Frank Capra) Kant

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936, Frank Capra) Rawls

Now, Voyager (1942, Irving Rapper) Nietzsche

Stella Dallas (1937, King Vidor) Ibsen

The Lady Eve (1941, Preston Sturges) Freud

His Girl Friday (1940, Howard Hawks) Plato

The Awful Truth (1937, Leo McCarey) Aristotle

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962, John Ford) Thoreau

Unforgiven (Clint Eastwood, 1992) Nietzsche (again)

Toy Story (John Lassiter, 1995)
I will be traveling early this semester. The calendar reflects that absence, February 5th, which will be made up on Sunday, February 8th..

Course Calendar

1. 1/27 (T) Introduction

No Reading
2. 1/29 (TH) Moral Perfectionism

Reading: Cavell, Introduction, Cities of Words (Henceforth, CW)

3. 2/3 (T) Emerson

Reading: Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” www.emersoncentral.com/selfreliance.htm Cavell, CW, 1. Emerson

4. 2/8 (SUNDAY, 7 p.m.) The Philadelphia Story

Reading: Cavell, CW, 2. The Philadelphia Story

5. 2/10 (T) Locke

Reading: Locke, Second Treatise on Government, Preface and Chapters 1 through 7, (P) Cavell CW, 3. Locke.

6. 2/12 (TH) Adam’s Rib

Reading: Cavell, CW, 4. Adam’s Rib

7. 2/17 (T) John Stuart Mill

Reading: Mill, The Subjection of Women, Chapters 1, 2 and 3 (P) Cavell, CW, 5. John Stuart Mill

8. 2/19 (TH) Gaslight

Reading: Cavell, CW, 6. Gaslight

9. 2/24 (T) Kant

Reading: Kant, Groundwork on the Metaphysics of Morals, pp.19-32, www.earlymoderntexts.com/pdf/kantgw.pdf Cavell, CW, 7. Kant

10. 2/26 (TH) It Happened One Night

Reading: Cavell, 8. It Happened One Night

11. 3/3 (T) Rawls

Reading: Rawls, excerpts from A Theory of Justice (to be announced), Cavell, CW, 9, Rawls

12. 3/5 (TH) Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

Reading: Cavell, CW, 10. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town

13. 3/10 (T) Nietzsche

Reading; Nietzsche, “Schopenhauer As Educator,” from Unmodern Observations (M) Cavell, CW, 11. Nietzsche

14. 3/12 (TH) Now, Voyager

Reading: Cavell, CW, 12. Now, Voyager


15. 3/24 (T) Ibsen

Reading: Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House (P) Cavell, CW, 13. Ibsen

16. 3/36 (TH) Stella Dallas

Reading: Cavell, CW, 14. Stella Dallas

17. 3/31 (T) Freud

Reading; Freud. “On Psychotherapy” (M) Cavell, 15. Freud

18. 4/2 (TH) The Lady Eve

Reading: Cavell, CW, 16. The Lady Eve

19. 4/7 (T) Plato

Reading: Plato, Republic, Books VII and X, classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.html Cavell, CW, 17. Plato

20. 4/9 (TH) His Girl Friday

Reading: Cavell, CW, 18. His Girl Friday

21. 4/14 (T) Aristotle

Reading: Nicomachean Ethics, Books I, VIII, IX, and X, classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/nicomachaen.html Cavell, CW, Artistotle

22.4/16 (TH) The Awful Truth

Reading: Cavell, CW, 20. The Awful Truth

23. 4/21 (T) Thoreau

Reading: Civil Disobedience, thoreau.eserver.org/civil.html

24.4/23 (TH) The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

25. 4/28 (T) Nietzsche (Again)

Reading: “The Pale Criminal,” nietzsche.thefreelibrary.com/Thus-Spake-Zarathustra/8-1
26. 4/30 (Th) Unforgiven

Reading: Dumm, Undoing Death in “Unforgiven” (Handout)

27. 5/5 (T) Toy Story (special film viewing) (or, a visit by Stanley Cavell)

Reading: Dumm, Toy Stories, (Handout)

28. 5/7 Conclusion


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