Fall/Winter Timetable

POL355Y1Y L5101

Topics in Classical Political Thought

Classical Constitutionalism


Constitutional government—the idea that political power be subordinate to law—is and has long been held up as an essential criterion of the practically good society. Even so, constitutionalism is beset by a raft of problems and paradoxes, difficulties that were not lost on its theoretical progenitors. This course examines the first and arguably greatest account of constitutionalism—that developed by the Greek philosopher Plato in several seldom read dialogues, including the Statesman, Minos, and Laws. Our study of these works will aspire to an awareness of the possibilities and limitations of the rule of law and of the enduring theoretical problems to which these complications give rise. Accordingly, we will follow Plato in taking up questions such as how the power that creates and enforces law can be limited by law and how law can claim to be authoritative if in practice it is parochial, partisan, inflexible, and coercive. In the course of examining such questions, we shall explore an array of related topics, including the problems of founding and stability, education, pleasure, the mixed regime, the construction of legislative codes, punishment, civil religion, and the relationship between philosophy and practical wisdom.


Plato: Statesman, trs. E. Brann, P. Kalkavage, and E. Salem (Focus Publishing); The Roots of Political Philosophy, ed. T. L. Pangle (Cornell University Press); Four Texts on Socrates, trs. T. G. West and G. S. West (Cornell University Press); The Laws of Plato, tr. T. L. Pangle (University of Chicago Press).

These books will be available for purchase at the University of Toronto Bookstore.

Format and Requirements

Participation/reading digests (15%), 2 essays (35%), 2 tests (50%).


POL200Y1 or POL200Y5 or (POLC70H3 and POLC711H3)