Response Papers

Response papers to weekly study questions will be due the first class of each week after the first week. See the Study Questions section for more details.


Students will submit three essays of approximately seven pages (1500–2000 words). The first will be re-written and re-submitted. In addition, each student will be responsible for a 10–minute oral presentation on one of the study questions at some point in the semester.

Below are some sample essay questions.

In Chapter 15 of Leviathan, Hobbes presents an argument entitled: "Justice Not Contrary to Reason," in which he refutes a certain "fool." This "fool," according to Hobbes, says in his heart that "there is no such thing as justice." After summarizing Hobbes's argument, explain what Machiavelli's answer to this argument would be, on the basis of the Prince, and then what Hobbes's response to Machiavelli would be. Support your presentation of the Machiavellian position with specific references to and examples from the text of the Prince.

Hobbes argues in chapters 18 and 30 of Leviathan that the sovereign must have complete control over all religious doctrines. To what extent does Locke's treatment of the relationship between religion and politics in his Letter Concerning Toleration differ from Hobbes's?

In the context of American democracy, is inequality a good thing or a bad thing? Answer with reference to at least two of the following: Declaration of Independence, Federalist 10, Democracy in America.

To what extent for Locke and Rousseau is religion a political problem that needs to be managed or a constitutive element of a good political community?

According to Rousseau, "the philosophers who have examined the foundations of society have all felt the necessity of going back to the state of nature but none has reached it." Elaborate this aspect of Rousseau's critique with regard to Hobbes and Locke and discuss how, as a result of this critique, his political vision differs from theirs.

In the famous note IX to his Second Discourse, Rousseau says the following: "Men are wicked; a sad and constant experience makes proof unnecessary; yet man is naturally good, I believe I have proved that." Assess the degree to which Rousseau genuinely proves his claim in the Discourse.

What is the relationship between property and civil society according to the Second Discourse? Between property and justice? Compare Rousseau's views with those of Locke?

In the Social Contract, Rousseau offers two accounts of the origins of a well-ordered society: the social contract itself and the "legislator." Are these two accounts compatible with one another? How does Rousseau's view of origins compare with those of Hobbes and Locke?

At the end of the Social Contract, Rousseau argues for a civil religion. Yet a Christian republic, he declares, is an impossibility ("those two words are mutually exclusive"). Does this mean that Rousseau embraces some kind of paganism? What would he say about the possibility of an Islamic republic? A Jewish republic?

To what extent do Rousseau and Nietzsche agree and disagree about the role of history in illuminating the human situation and improving it?

Student Examples

"Hobbes and Locke on the Rights of Man" (PDF)

"Rousseau and Locke: Religion and the Times" (PDF)

The examples above appear courtesy of MIT students and are used with permission.