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The History of Political Philosophy: From Plato to Rothbard

In this ten-lecture course sponsored by Steve Berger and Kenneth Garschina, intellectual historian David Gordon guides students through a survey of the greatest thinkers, and evaluates these scholars by their arguments for and against the idea of Liberty.Download the complete audio of this event (ZIP) here.

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4. Thomas Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes, 1588-1679, best known work is Leviathan (1651) which established social contract theory. His liberal thinking included: The right of the individual; the natural equality of all men; the artificial character of the political order; the view that all legitimate political power must be representative; and a liberal interpretation of law.Hobbes met not only Descartes but also Galileo. He thought space and time to be imaginary. He saw humans as being matter and motion, obeying the same physical laws as other matter and motion. He thought one could square the circle. Lecture 4 of 10 from David Gordon's The History of Politcal Philosophy: From Plato to Rothbard.

6 Jun 2007

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5. John Locke

John Locke, 1632-1704, was the Father of Classical Liberalism. Human beings in their rationality are in God’s image. His law of nature was ethical and universal. Human preservation was tantamount. Each person has a property in himself. Property precedes government.Locke thought the mind was a blank slate, contrary to Cartesian philosophy based on pre-existing concepts. The earth is given to humans in common. Locke’s doctrine that governments need the consent of the governed is central to the Declaration of Independence. He advocated separation of powers and believed that revolution was not only a right but an obligation sometimes.Locke had close ties to Shaftesbury, founder of the Whig movement. The overthrow of King James II by William III with his wife Mary II of England was the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding and the Two Treatises of Civil Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration were written after his return from exile.Lecture 5 of 10 from David Gordon's The History of Politcal Philosophy: From Plato to Rothbard.

6 Jun 2007

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2. Aristotle

Aristotle, 384-322 BC, joined Plato’s Academy in Athens at eighteen and remained there until the age of thirty-seven. He was not a citizen of Athens. His writings constitute the first comprehensive system of Western philosophy. He tutored Alexander the Great. That experience provided him with an abundance of supplies to work with. He established a library in the Lyceum.After Plato’s death, Aristotle shifted from Platonism to empiricism. Aristotle’s two main works in philosophy were about ethics [Nicomachean Ethics] and politics [Politics]. Aristotelian ethics were more practical than theoretical. He aimed at becoming good and doing good as an individual. Reason is the distinguishing characteristic of human beings. Aristotle’s work Politics addressed the city (polis), which he viewed as organic. He stated that “man is by nature a political animal.” Kingship, aristocracy and polity are the three good groups of the polis. The aim of the city was to allow some citizens the possibility to live a good life and to perform beautiful acts. Aristotle did favor government education. He, also, felt that some men were slaves by nature and were better off being ruled by others.Lecture 2 of 10 from David Gordon's The History of Politcal Philosophy: From Plato to Rothbard.

5 Jun 2007

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10. Robert Nozick and Murray Rothbard

Robert Nozick, 1938-2002, was a professor at Harvard whose best known book is Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) – a libertarian answer to Rawls’ A Theory of Justice (1971). Most controversially, Nozick argued that a consistent upholding of the non-aggression principle would allow and regard as valid consensual or non-coercive enslavement contracts between adults. He rejected the notion of inalienable rights advanced by Locke and most contemporary capitalist-oriented libertarian academics, writing in Anarchy, State and Utopia that the typical notion of a "free system" would allow adults to voluntarily enter into non-coercive slave contracts.Murray Rothbard, 1926-1995, wrote The Ethics of Liberty as his main political philosophy work. He accepted the labor theory of property, arguing that mixing labor with unowned land made the land private property which could then trade hands by trade or gift. He rejected the Lockean proviso that individuals could only homestead land where “there is enough, and as good, left in common for others.”Rothbard was concerned with how we know what is right or good. His is Aristotle’s natural law reasoning. He rejected Mises conviction that ethical values remain subjective. Rothbard concludes that interventionist policies do benefit some people, including certain government employees and welfare beneficiaries.Lecture 10 of 10 from David Gordon's The History of Politcal Philosophy: From Plato to Rothbard.

9 Jun 2007

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8. John Stuart Mill, Lysander Spooner and Herbert Spencer

John Stuart Mill, 1806-1873, was the most famous classical liberal, a British philosopher and a political economist whose concept of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state control. His hierarchy of pleasures in Utilitarianism was a notable idea. He felt that individual accomplishment through self-improvement was the source of true freedom.Herbert Spencer, 1820-1903, was a prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era. As a polymath, he had an enormous range of knowledge. He achieved unparalleled popularity. Spencer was a Utilitarian, feeling that the promotion of human survival would maximize human utility. Spencer is associated with Social Darwinism, perhaps because he supported competition, but he did not embrace Darwinist science.Lysander Spooner, 1808-1887, was an American individualist anarchist and abolitionist. His key contribution was to demolish consent theories. In the No Treason pamphlets he asks for names of those who have actually consented to the Constitution.Lecture 8 of 10 from David Gordon's The History of Politcal Philosophy: From Plato to Rothbard.

8 Jun 2007

Rank #5