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Perspectives III, Horizon of the New Social Sciences

philosophy department

Six credits philosophy
Six credits social sciences

Perspectives III aims to show how secular man of modern times has attempted through the social sciences to work out concretely the new political, intellectual and institutional structures that will provide meaning and stability for a this-worldly existence as other-worldly goals have progressively provided less and less illumination and determination for modern living. No longer looking to God or an institutional church for ultimate values and goals, Western man has found it increasingly necessary to devise and develop those new disciplines that would provide a new understanding of governance, law and other social and economic relationship to replace the understanding and guidelines that in past centuries were supplied by the Torah and the church.

Civil order having been thus established on a secular basis, a new material prosperity; the new science of law, which owes little or nothing to medieval conceptions; and, finally, the new science of sociology that proposes to understand social life in all its varied manifestations.

One of the issues the students encounter is the great church-state debate of the late medieval and early modern period. This often fills a gap in the students' education, since they are typically unaware that there is a religious, indeed an ecclesial, subtext to the great political debates and movements of the modern world. In the course of reading authors such as Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Marx, we not only stress the importance of the church-state issue, but the way Christian conceptions of freedom and dignity of the individual inform modern self understanding.

Reading List

First Semester: Enlightened Secularism and the New Social Sciences

Introduction and background:
  • Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae (selections)
The new politics of power:
  • from authority and tradition to private right: Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (selections)
  • from private right to private property and private religion:  John Locke, Second Treatise on Government
  • the new liberalism: Spinoza, Theologico-Political Treatise (selections)
  • the separation of powers: Montiesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws (selections)
  • the legitimization of power: Rousseau, the second Discourse and Social Contract (selections)
Charting commercial prosperity with the new science of economics:
  • wealth follows its own laws: Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations (selections)
  • from law to system: D. Ricardo, Principles of Political Economy and Taxation
Is a science of society - sociology - possible?
  • progress as the fundamental hypothesis: Turgot, Reflections on...Wealth, Jean d’Alembert, Preliminary Discourse (Encyclopedia)
New laws for the new republics:
  • William Blackstone
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • The Federalist papers
  • John Marshall

Second Semester: Testing and Maturation of the New Social Sciences

Can democracy be totally egalitarian?
  • Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
  • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (selections)
Can politics be made strictly scientific?
  • Bentham, Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation
  • James Mill, “Government”
  • Auguste Comte, Introduction to Positive Philosophy
Can the new political economy be defended and explained?
  • John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy (selections)
  • Utilitarianism, On Liberty
The challenge to private-right political theory, private-property law, and private-wealth economic theory.
  • Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Right,’ On the Jewish Question and introduction to the Grundrisse
Transformation of the new social sciences into mature disciplines:
Economics: from equilibrium to planned imbalance
  • Works of Walras, Marshall, and Keynes
Law:legal theory becomes self-critical
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Louis Brandeis, and Felix Frankfurter
Sociology: the new social theorists
  • Emile Durkheim, George Simmel
  • Max Weber, Economy and Society (selections)