Modern Philosophy (Machiavelli)


This course will be devoted to a careful reading of a small number of texts from a major figure in the modern philosophical tradition since Machiavelli; e.g., Hobbes, Descartes, Locke, Rousseau, Nietzsche. The goal of the course is twofold: First, it is designed to afford students the luxury of spending a great deal of time on one thinker, to examine the way in which our own thought bears the residue of previous thought, but especially to attempt to understand the philosopher as he understood himself. Second, we will learn how difficult it is to match an author’s care in writing with an equal care in reading. The text for spring 2015 will be Machiavelli’s Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy, at first blush a book at odds with his most famous work, The Prince. The latter seems to advocate an amoral power politics; the former seems a celebration of republican rule. The one advocates founding “new modes and orders,” while the other takes its bearings by the old Roman republic. In this course, we will attempt to address these and other ambiguities in Machiavelli’s thought by way of a careful reading of the Discourses. We will be especially concerned with understanding the philosophical teaching underlying his practical political teaching.