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Title: POLS 151-01, United States Politics, Fall 2004
Authors: Wirls, Stephen
Keywords: Political Science, Department of;Syllabus;Curriculum;Academic departments;Text;2004 Fall
Issue Date: 5-Feb-2008
Publisher: Memphis, Tenn. : Rhodes College
Series/Report no.: Syllabi CRN
Abstract: American government is, strictly speaking, an arrangement of institutions for enacting and enforcing laws. As with machines, if we study only the motions of these institutions, we will see but a small part of what they were doing and almost nothing of why they were doing it in this or that way. The arrangement of these mechanisms of government reflect an understanding of the purposes of government and of the characteristics of those who will be, directly and indirectly, running the government. A study of American government will, therefore, involve careful thinking about questions philosophical and psychological. What ought to be the ends of government, and how can human beings secure those ends? But we should not assume that desirable goals and human behavior are readily compatible. We will look at the mechanisms, institutions, of government as crucial means for reconciling goals and motives in political practice. Our study will, therefore, be about securing as much good, or as little harm, as is possible under the circumstances. That is the essence of politics. That is what makes political thinking so demanding and satisfying. Consequently, you should expect the study of politics in the United States to be very difficult. Our work will relate to what you see in the world, but only gradually. You should bring your immediate interests and opinions to the readings and to class, but be prepared to see their deficiencies. We cannot decide intelligently (as opposed to what most journalists do) whether George W. Bush has been a good president, or whether this Congress has been successful, without a thorough understanding of the context: what are reasonable expectations? A course of study should change your life, how you think about and address the world around you. It should not trade old prejudices for new ones, but rather turn prejudice into reasoned opinion. This requires three disciplines. One is that you must be willing to expose your opinions and examine them, to argue with the readings, with your classmates, myself included. Another discipline is that you doubt the sufficiency and soundness of your prejudices and opinions; as better evidence and reasoning is presented, you should be willing to modify or abandon them. The third discipline is crucial: careful reading. Much of what we will read is densely reasoned, strange, offensive, and, therefore, difficult. React to what you read, but also attend carefully to the argument. Defects in an argument are to be found not in its conclusions but in the evidence and logic that lead to the conclusions. Allow your distaste for a conclusion to drive you to find flaws in what supports it. The more carefully you read, the more accurately you will think, and the more accurately you think, the better you will write, and the better you get the picture. What, therefore, will our classes be like? We are here not to swallow knowledge stones but to learn how to digest, how to integrate ideas and information into our thinking about the world and our lives. Class should engage all of us, therefore, in learning as an activity. I will say much. You should say much more. You may interrupt me. You may begin the class with a question, a statement, an observation. I will proceed, more or less, according to the syllabus, but my aim is not simply to plow through it. If you are not satisfied with your grasp of the materials and problems, you should say so. If you are not satisfied or are confused, you are far from alone. Finally, learning is a continuous activity which should unite all of the individual aspects of your life here and beyond. More narrowly, you should not treat class time and office hours as wholly distinct things. Some of the best and most enjoyable learning occurs one-on-one. If you have a question, something you want to discuss, whatever, come for a visit. You will be welcomed.
Description: This syllabus has been submitted to the Rhodes College Office of Academic Affairs by the course instructor.
Appears in Collections:Course Syllabi

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