Modern Political Thought
September 19, 2013
Modern (modernity)- is part of a narrative that starts with Plato, and continues on
through the Dark Ages, to Niche, to today, there has been a continuous tradition of
the same books being read by students and intellectuals. We are trying to look back
and figure out what the story was…
On way of telling the story is that rationalism is created from this development of
thinking. The hegemonic strand is the development of rationalism.
There is a radical shift from the ancient world of thinking to the modern. In POL320
we should start with Hobbes, but we start with Rousseau, which is the beginning of
Modernity is the creation of a certain culture, and when we use the term
modern we are talking about a tradition that started in a specific place
(Europe/Western). IT is important to understand that it is not world political
thought, it is specific to one culture and tradition. As Westerners, we are part of this
tradition and our lives are a product of this tradition. Also, this tradition has been
powerful and dominant/hegemonic, which had led people to confuse the modern
Western narrative as the “only” political thought. In this course we will introduce
criticism. This is a narrative we can choose, or reject, it is not mandatory to accept
it. In our modern world, our societies are quite different, so there can be criticisms
that are valid from other points of view.
The Enlightenment- refers to a period of time. People during this time identified
themselves as being part of the enlightenment (it was a self-conscious term that was
There are 5 themes of Enlightenment that we will use:
Enlightenment Values- (will be theme for final essay in exam)
Rationalism to the Age of Reason
17 century rationalism –Descartes (1637) –Hobbes (1658) –Spinoza (1663) –
Newton (1687) –Locke (1688) 18 century as an age of reason – Voltaire (1759) –Rousseau (1760) –Adam Smith
(1776) –Kant (1785) –Wollstonecraft (1792)
The transition from rationalism to the age of reason, is because there is a new way
of doing philosophy. Hobbes says that the study of politics should be like geometry.
The age of reason, which is the enlightenment, is the spread of rationalism. It is
about spreading the cultural attitude, which is becoming a set of values that is being
shared by everyone (not just philosophers).
a. Everyone to use their own reason
b. Reason functions the same way for all humans
c. In using one’s own reason, one is liberated
-from ignorance (enlightenment)
-from external authority (autonomy
-from the past
The process of enlightenment is trying to get back to our reason, so that we can all
come together and realize the truth. The model of this is science. Science is a way to
clean away the debris of tradition, superstition, etc. It is a way of discovering truth.
We need to enlighten ourselves from ignorance.
Kant’s essay Enlightenment- We are self-ridding ourselves from “minority” (being
childlike). It is about becoming mature. Philosophers like to apply the idea of
growing-up, and coming of age. One of the problems with this is that enlightenment
thinkers tend to take this image and apply it to the whole world (saying other
cultures are “young” “immature”), which is problematic.
“Dare to Know” is