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Lecture 3

POL200Y1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 3: Meritocracy, Athenian Democracy, Best Interests

Political Science
Course Code
Clifford Orwin

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- Thuiddes othe iage of a ii plague
o Last tiem we looked at it in Athens, an actual plague, discussed the infectious
disease and human devastation it brought
o Including Plato as well as Hobbes
o As Hobbes claimed in Leviathan to describe the passsions that drive individuals in
the state of nature
o Within Thucydides text, we undertand the consequences and causes as the
backdrop of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of Athenian
democracy at war
o Corcyra was a large naval democracy, forsaken all its ties with mother country
o Saw the opportunity to gain political advantage for themselves
o Thucydides war is a violent teacher
This implies, in this case and others, that citizens internalized the national
violence and transported it within their own domestic politics
In the case of Corcyra, a less powerful city, warfare operated like a
natural disaster bc it represented an external, uncontrollable force of
great intensity that led to civil disunity
Like the plague of Athens
Disunity is the key to the breakdown of politics
Both in Athens and Corcyra
Corcyra shows how this became radicalized, polarized between people
who wanted to use the city for their own purposes
o The lesson:
Individuals identified more strongly with their political factions, as
democrats or oligarchs, than with the city as a whole
No speech was so powerful, no oath so terrible, as to overcome this
mutual hostility
Speech is powerless, in dealing with murderous deeds
Unity in a way in which people fled any commitment to accommodate to
it in favour of their own private interests
In Corcyra, political leaders tried to unite people through speech, through
plausible words
eualit fo odia itizes
odeate aistoa
We at to e i hage, ot  ee ih, ut ee the est
Though these slogas ae plausile, Thudides sas its eoe ee
window dressing for ulterior motives for individual power
The larger point, is that Thucydides begins to show us why speech is a
slippery tool
Wh its ofte iapale of uiting people in the face of adverse
In a time of civil war, language is itself corroputed
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Speech is not a transparent medium for communication of ideas
Speech, in order to be effective or meaningful, depends on a
framework of shared ethical and social ideals
Thucydides they reversed the usual way of using words to evaluate
What as osideed oldess eae oal aliess
Moderation was eel the loak of a ual atue
“udde theo as eig aepted as al alou ad plottig
for security became a reasonable excuse for delaying action
This was important to understand the relationship between ethics and
Small regions depend on shared ethical terminology
o A way of thinking about things like justice, courage,
prudence, so forth
o Things that we normally consider to be virtues
o Admirable traits or dispositions
o Here, what Thucydides is saying is that people kept using
the old terminology, but the meanings of such words
didt hage
What changed, he indicates, is that these terms were applied differently,
in ways that others could not predict
In fact, what people said for example was that rushing to figure
out an enemy and kill him first was regarded positively, as
courgeous and intelligent
Thats a kid of distotio of the ethial teiolog that
previously worked to unite this political community
Patriotism was corrupted, people were not dedicated to the
common good but to the parties
What is driving all the corruption?
o A: a eessie kid of selfish passio, hih he alls the
desie to ule hih ae fo adese aitio
People want to rule bc they are greedy, bc they
seek status
Thucydides therefore wants to understand the
basics of human nature in its most simple form
when no laws force people to contain themselves,
this is what people are like when their natures are
laid bare
o Thucydides may be considered a pessimist
There is a kind of deep hostility, selfishness lying
beneath law and prevention
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- Corcyra shows us that when human nature gets the better of law, the desire to seek the
common good, his good embodiment of these things ensues in the breakdown of
political order, the CIVIC PLAGUE
o This time, Athens doest dissole ito othigess
o Athens was able to rebound
o The Athenians, despite all the problematic conventional and legal violations,
found in their social world resources of resilience they could come back from
- The question is, whether the seeds of catastrophe in the plague of Athens would flower
into the breakdown of the city itself
o Pericles responded to this:
Some problems are beginning to surface in Athens, whether Athens goes
in the way of Corcyra, or not
Whether it can avoid this destiny or not
His virtues, such as those
o Why is an absence of custom seen as a deviation from human nature as opposed
to a return to it?
Why would Thucydides oppose nature and convention?
Thucydides takes his view bc of his empirical observations
What ell disoe he e tu to Plato ad Aistotle, fo
example, is that nature and convention are actually not
- Book 2
o We left off in the chronological sweep of the narrative with the plague
o Analytical framework for Thucydides
o How does Pericles respond to the plague?
The suffeig of the plague as etail assoiated i peoples id ith
the war effort
The Athenians thought that the gods had brought plague along with the
Dorian war
The Pericles long term poitical strategiy
o Thucydides finds Athens wrong to put the blame on Pericles
Plague along with the war
The people appoed Peeleses idea to go to a so the people should
not blame him
The funeral oration
Perecles calls upon his people to accept responsibility for own
o Esp in the face of calamity
He has to ask whether the political future is predictable with democratic
forms of reasoning and with rational outcomes altogether?
Plague had been completely unanticipated
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