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Information For Political Theory

I watched a young Japanese woman explain why she was studying martial arts in Japan. She explained that the knowledge and skills she gained from her studies of ancient self-defense gave her power and confidence and it made her unafraid. She said that kind of power and self-assurance made it very easy to be kind. Knowledge is power, the old saying goes. And the power that knowledge brings can make it easy to be kind. To that belief, I offer the following information:

The following sources come from Department of Politics Princeton University Reading List for the General Examination in Political Theory (revised October 2010, to take effect with general exams of October 2011.  MarksNotes found the literature.  Enjoy.

Ancient and medieval political theory

Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War


Plato, Apology


Plato, Crito

Plato, Republic

Plato, Statesman

Plato, Laws

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics;

— use translate button

Aristotle, Politics

Cicero, On the Commonwealth [De Republica] ,

Cicero, Dream of Scipio

Cicero, On the Laws [De Legibus],

Cicero, On Duties [De Officiis]

Augustine, The City of God,

Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles,

Aquinas, De Regimine Principum

Aquinas, Summa Theologiae

Modern political theory

*Machiavelli, The Prince;

Machiavelli, The Discourses

Hobbes, Leviathan

Locke, First Treatise of Civil Government, Second Treatise of Civil Government;

Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration

Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws,

Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature,

Rousseau, Discourse on the Sciences and Arts;–%20First%20Discourse.pdf

Discourse on the Origin of Inequality;

Rousseau, On The Social Contract

Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation,

Bentham, Nonsense Upon Stilts (in Bentham, Rights, Representation, and Reform, pp. 319-401)

Smith, The Wealth of Nations,

Jay, Madison, and Hamilton, The Federalist Papers,

Burke, Pre-Revolutionary Writings,

Kant, Idea, for a Universal History

Kant, What is Enlightenment?;

Kant, Conjectures on the Beginning of ‘Human History;

Kant, On the Common Saying: “That May Be Correct in Theory, but It Is Of No Use in Practice,


Kant, Toward Perpetual Peace:

Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals

Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals:

Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit

Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Marx, On the Jewish Question

Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel ‘s Philosophy of Right: Introduction;

Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844

Marx, The German Ideology, Part I

Marx, Manifesto of the Communist Party;

Marx, Capital

Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme

Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,

Marx, The Civil War in France

1.S. Mill, Utilitarianism

Mill, On Liberty

Mill, Considerations on Representative Government

Mill, The Subjection of Women

Mill, Principles of Political Economy,%20Principles%20of%20Political%20Economy.pdf

Nietzsche, On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life

Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals

Weber, The Profession and Vocation of Politics

Weber, Suffrage and Democracy in Germany

Weber, Parliament and Government in Germany under a New Political Order

Weber: Political Writings


These are some additional references:


The Federalist Papers: No. 10

The complete list:

Department of Politics Princeton University

Reading List for the General Examination in Political Theory (revised October 2010, to take effect with general exams of October 2011)

The examination will consist of three parts:  (I) Ancient and medieval, (II) Modern, and (III) Norms and concepts. Students will be asked to write on one question in each part chosen from two or more that will be offered trying to avoid excessive overlap of themes or theorists. Each essay will have equal weight in determining the exam grade.

This reading list is a guide to preparation for the exam. It is not a required syllabus: students are not expected to have read all of the works listed. Works by members of the Princeton faculty in political theory are omitted.

The reading list is divided into three sections corresponding to the three parts of the exam, plus an appendix on methodology in the study of political thought. But this division is only a convenience. Political theory is a single subject. Responses to questions in the historical parts of the exam will almost certainly benefit from a grasp of pertinent normative and analytical materials and essays on normative themes are likely to be strengthened by a critical understanding of canonical texts.

Parts I and II. The readings listed in the historical sections combine essential texts by canonical writers and secondary readings pertinent to each writer’s work. The list of canonical works reflects the faculty’s judgment of the works a student should command by the time of the general examination; it does not aspire to be comprehensive. The secondary readings aim to illustrate an array of perspectives in the recent scholarly literature. While no particular secondary readings are specifically required, it will be difficult to demonstrate knowledge of the primary thinkers listed without some appreciation of the major controversies about their works.

Ten thinkers in parts I and II are marked with an asterisk (*).  At least one (but perhaps only one) question in each of Parts I and II of the exam will be answerable with reference to one or more of the starred thinkers.  The other questions in those Parts may require answers referring either wholly or in part to some one or more of the unstarred thinkers.  Normally all of the questions in these parts can be answered with reference to writers on the full list, although from time to time a question may refer to other theorists or works studied in graduate seminars offered in the two years preceding the exam.

Those who would benefit from further study of the major texts are urged to take or audit the Politics 301/303 sequence, and (if taking them for credit) to take the corresponding graduate reading courses (Politics 701/703). Reading courses should be arranged with the instructor before the semester begins.

Part III. The readings listed are intended to represent a range of views and approaches to several basic concepts and normative doctrines found in contemporary political theory. Again, the list does not aim to be comprehensive. Although students are not expected to be conversant with all of the works listed, they should be familiar with the leading ideas and concerns in the contemporary literature under most of the subheadings.

Appendix.  In addition to studying the thinkers and concepts listed in the three main portions of the reading list students may find it helpful to do some reading about general issues of methodology in the study of political thought. The works listed in the Appendix represent several perspectives.

I. Ancient and medieval political theory
Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War, I; II; 1-50, 70-86; V, 84-1 15; VI [entire; not 1-32 only]; VII, 60-87 W. Robert Connor, Thucydides Steven Forde, The Ambition to Rude Raymond Geuss, Outside Ethics, ch.13 Gerald M. Mara, The Civic Conversations of Thucydides and Plato:  classical political philosophy and the limits of democracy S. Sara Monoson, Plato’s Democratic Entanglements, ch.3  Josiah Ober, Political Dissent in Democratic Athens, ch. 2

*Plato, Apology; Crito; Republic; Statesman; Laws, Stephanus sections 624-632, 641-650, 659-664, 690-695, 699-702, 704-705, 709-747, 752-780, 853-858, 861-864, 875, 961-969 Julia Annas, Introduction to Plato’s Republic Danielle Allen, Why Plato Wrote Allan Bloom, ‘Interpretive Essay’ in The Republic of Plato, ed. Bloom Christopher Bobonich, Plato’s Utopia Recast, ch. 5 J. Peter Euben, The Tragedy of Political Theory, chs 7, 8                                                  Terence Irwin, Plato’s Ethics, chs 1, 11-18, 20 Josiah Ober, Political Dissent in Democratic Athens, chs 1, 4 C.D.C. Reeve, Philosopher-Kings Malcolm Schofield, Plato, Political Philosophy Gregory Vlastos, Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher, and Platonic Studies, nos 5 and 6

*Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics; Politics John Cooper, Reason and Human Good in Aristotle Jill Frank, A Democracy of Distinction Richard Kraut, Aristotle: Political Philosophy Jonathan Lear, Aristotle: The Desire to Understand Stephen Salkever, Finding the Mean Arlene Saxonhouse, Fear of Diversity, Part III (chs 8, 9) Aristide Tessitore, Reading Aristotle’s Ethics Bernard Yack, The Problems of a Political Animal

Cicero, On the Commonwealth [De Republica], Bks I, entire; III, entire; VI, Dream of Scipio only; On the Laws [De Legibus], Bks I and II, entire; On Duties [De Officiis], entire Anthony Everitt, Cicero Bryan Garsten, Saving Persuasion, ch. 5 A.A. Long, ‘Cicero’s politics in De officiis [On Duties],’ in A. Laks and M. Schofield (eds), Justice and Generosity Malcolm Schofield, Saving the City, ch. 10 E. W. Steel, Cicero, Rhetoric, and Empire Neal Wood. Cicero‘s Social and Political Thought

Augustine, The City of God, Books II-V; VII, 1-11; XIV, 28; XV, 1-5; XIX, 4-22, 25-28; XX, 1-2; XXII, 1-8, 30 Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo Henry Chadwick, Augustine Herbert A. Deane, The Political and Social Ideas of St. Augustine Peter Garnsey, Ideas of Slavery from Aristotle to Augustine, ch. 13 R.A. Markus, Saeculum: history and society in the theology of St. Augustine R. Martin, ‘The two cities in Augustine’s political philosophy,’ Journal of History of Ideas 33 (1972), 195-216 Reinhold Niebuhr, ‘Augustine’s Political Realism,’ in Christian Realism and Political Problems J. Rist, Augustine
Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles, I:3, 4, 7, 8; II: 68; III: 2,3,25, 27, 32, 37, 48, 51, 53. 63, 64, 81; IV: 54, 76; De Regimine Principum 1-6, 12, 14, 15; Summa Theologiae I, qq. 2, 12, 20, 75, 79, 85, 92. 96, 98; I-II, qq. 3,5,21, 62, 81, 90-97 [Treatise on Law], 100, 105, 109; II-II, qq. 10. 11, 12, 40, 42, 57, 60, 64, 66, 69, 77, 78, 194, 110, 150, 152, 154; III, qu. 8; Supplement, qu. 52 (these selections can be found in St. Thomas Aquinas on Politics and Ethics [Norton Critical Editions], ed. P. Sigmund).

J.H. Burns, ed., Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought J.P. Canning, A History of Medieval Political Thought 300-1450 (1996), ch. 3 A.P. d’Entreves, Natural Law John Finnis, Aquinas: Moral, Political, and Legal Theory Norman Kretzmann and Eleonore Stump, eds. Cambridge Companion to Aquinas: esp. ch. by Sigmund     N. Kretzmann, A. Kenny, J. Pinborg, E. Stumb, eds, The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy: esp. chapters by Barnes, Dunbabin, Luscombe (both) and McGrade

II. Modern political theory
*Machiavelli, The Prince; The Discourses F. Gilbert, Machiavelli and Guicciardini: Politics and History in Sixteenth-Century Italy (1984 edn) Mark Hulliung, Citizen Machiavelli      Harvey Mansfield, Machiavelli ‘s Virtue Hannah Pitkin, Fortune is a Woman J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment Quentin Skinner, Machiavelli * Hobbes, Leviathan Jean Hampton, Hobbes and the Social Contract Tradition Noel Malcolm, Aspects of Hobbes Michael Oakeshott, ‘Introduction to Leviathan’ in Rationalism in Politics Quentin Skinner, Reason and Rhetoric, ch. 8; Visions of Politics, vol. 3; Hobbes and Republican Liberty  Leo Strauss, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes Richard Tuck, Hobbes and Philosophy and Government, 1572-1651

* Locke, First Treatise of Civil Government, §§1, 3, 23, 33, 40-48, 56, 58, 66, 86-87, 89-94; Second Treatise of Civil Government; A Letter Concerning Toleration Richard Ashcraft, Revolutionary Politics and Locke ‘s Two Treatises of Government John Dunn, The Political Thought of John Locke     Ruth Grant, John Locke ‘s Liberalism Peter Laslett, ‘Introduction’ to CUP edition of Two Treatises of Government A. John Simmons, The Lockean Theory of Rights; On the Edge of Anarchy; Moral Principles and Political Obligations, ch. on tacit consent James Tully, An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts       Jeremy Waldron, God, Locke, and Equality  —–,  The Right to Private Property, ch. 6 J. Horton and S. Mendus (eds) John Locke: A letter concerning toleration in focus Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, Bks 1-6; Bk 7 chs 1, 9. 15-17; Bk 8; Bk 9 chs 1-5; Bk 10 chs 1 – 11; Bk 11 chs 1-6; Bk 12, chs 1-4; Bk 14 chs 1-6, 9-10, 15; Bk 15; Bk 16, chs 1-4, 9-10; Bk 17; Bk 18 chs 1-17; Bk 19 chs 1-16, 27; Bk 20 chs 1-14, 23; Bk 21 chs 1-5, 20-23; Bk 23, chs 28-29; Bk 24, chs 1-8, 19-20; Bk 25 chs 1-2, 9-15; Bk 26, chs 1-3, 20-23; Bk 29, chs 1, 16, 19

H.E. Ellis, ‘Montesquieu’s Modern Politics: The Spirit of the Laws and the problem of modern monarchy in Old Regime France,’ History of Political Thought, 10 (1989), 665-700 Nannerl Keohane, Philosophy and the State in France: The Renaissance to the Enlightenment  Thomas Pangle, Montesquieu’s Philosophy of Liberalism Melvin Richter, ‘Comparative Political Analysis in Montesquieu and Tocqueville,’ Comparative Politics 1 (1969), 129-160 Judith Shklar, Montesquieu R. Shackelton, ed.. Essays on Montesquieu and the Enlightenment D. Carrithers, M. Mosher, and P. Rahe (eds), Montesquieu’s Science of Politics

Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book III. Parts I and II; ‘Of the Original Contract’ in Essays    Stephen Buckle, Natural Law and the Theory of Property: Grotius to Hume, ch.5 Duncan Forbes, Hume’s Philosophical Politics Knud Haakonssen, The Science of a Legislator: the Natural Jurisprudence of David Hume and Adam Smith David Miller, Philosophy and Ideology in Hume’s Political Thought Frederick Whelan, Order and Artifice in Hume’s Political Philosophy Alexander Broadie, ed., Cambridge Companion to the Scottish Enlightenment          R.H.Campell and A.S. Skinner (eds), The Origins and Nature of the Scottish Enlightenment

*Rousseau, Discourse on the Sciences and Arts; Discourse on the Origin of Inequality; On The Social Contract (recommended: Emile and The Government of Poland) Joshua Cohen, A Free Community of Equals N.J.H. Dent, Rousseau: An Introduction to his Psychological, Social, and Political Theory Arthur Melzer, The Natural Goodness of Man: On the System of Rousseau’s Thought Frederick Neuhouser, ‘Freedom, Dependence, and the General Will,’ Philosophical Review, 102 (1993), 363-395 and Rousseau’s Theodicy of Self-Love:  Evil, Rationality, and the Drive for Recognition Susan Okin, Women in Western Political Thought, pt. III Judith Shklar, Men and Citizens Jean Starobinski, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction  Patrick Riley, ed., Cambridge Companion to Rousseau

Bentham, Introduction to Principles of Morals and Legislation, chs. 1-5, 10. 12-14, 17; Nonsense Upon Stilts (in Bentham, Rights, Representation, and Reform, pp. 319-401) Lea Campos Boralevi, Bentham and the Oppressed H.L.A. Hart, Essays on Bentham  Douglas G. Long, Bentham on Liberty Mary P. Mack, Jeremy Bentham Frederick Rosen. Jeremy Bentham and Representative Democracy  Nancy Rosenblum, Bentham ‘s Theory of the State Philip Schofield, Utility and Democracy: The Political Thought of Jeremy Bentham

Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Bk I chs. 1-3; Bk III chs. 1,4; Bk IV, chs.1-3, 5 (including the “Digression”), 7 (Part 3); Bk V chs. 1, 2 (Part I); The Theory of Moral Sentiments Samuel Fleischacker. On Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations: A Philosophical Companion  Charles Griswold, Adam Smith and the Virtues of Enlightenment Knud Haakonssen, The Science of a Legislator: the Natural Jurisprudence of David Hume and Adam Smith Albert Hirschman. The Passions and the Interests Istvan Hont and Michael Ignatieff, eds., Wealth and Virtue Istvan Hont, Jealousy of Trade (Cambridge, Mass., 2005), ‘Introduction’ and chs 5-6 Andrew Skinner and Thomas Wilson (eds) Essays on Adam Smith

Jay, Madison, and Hamilton, The Federalist Papers, nos 1, 10, 14-18, 37, 47-49, 51-57, 62-63, 70-71, 78, 84; The Anti-Federalist, ed. H. Storing, abridged M. Dry; Essays of ‘Brutus,’ nos 1-4 David Epstein, The Political Theory of the Federalist   Henry May, The Enlightenment in America Thomas Pangle, The Spirit of Modern Republicanism J. G. A. Pocock, ‘1776: The Revolution against Parliament,’ in Pocock (ed.), Three British Revolutions: 1641, 1688 and 1776, pp. 265-88 P. Rahe, Republics, Ancient and Modern, vol.3: Inventions of Prudence: Constituting the American Regime Rogers Smith, Civic Ideals H. J. Storing, What the Anti-Federalists were For  Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, chs 2, 12, 13, 15  Michael Zuckert, The Natural Rights Republic

Burke, Pre-Revolutionary Writings, ed. I. Harris; Reflections on the Revolution in France; Speech on Fox’s East India Bill; Speech in Opening the Impeachment of Warren Hastings (for Fox and Hastings speeches, see D. Bromwich, ed., On Empire, Liberty, and Reform; or J. Welsh and D. Fidler, eds, Empire and Community) David Bromwich, ‘Introduction’ to Burke, On Empire, Liberty, and Reform       James Conniff, The Useful Cobbler: Edmund Burke and the Politics of Progress   Conor Cruise O’Brien, The Great Melody J.G.A.Pocock, Politics, Language, and Time, ch. 6; Virtue, Commerce and History, ch. 10 Frederick Whelan, Edmund Burke and India Stephen K. White, Edmund Burke: Modernity, Politics, and Aesthetics *Kant, Idea, for a Universal History; What is Enlightenment?; Conjectures on the Beginning of ‘Human History; ‘On the Common Saying: “That May Be Correct in Theory, but It Is Of No Use in Practice,” part II; Toward Perpetual Peace: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals; The Metaphysics of Morals: Preface, Introduction, ‘Doctrine of Right’: Introduction through §27, §§41-42, 43-62; ‘Doctrine of Virtue’: Preface, Introduction, §§4, 11, 12, 16-18, 19-22, 29-31, 34-35, 37-38, 47-48  Katrin Flikschuh, Kant and Modern Political Thought Leslie Mullholland, Kant’s System of Rights Sankar Muthu, Enlightenment against Empire  Onora O’Neill, Constructions of Reason, chs 1, 2 Allen D. Rosen, Kant’s Theory of Justice Arthur Ripstein, Force and Freedom Allen Wood, Kant’s Ethical Thought Mark Timmons, ed., Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals: Interpretive Essays Howard S. Williams, Kant’s Political Philosophy

*Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit: Preface; Introduction; Lordship and Bondage; Absolute Freedom and Terror; The Philosophy of Right Shlomo Avineri, Hegel’s Theory of the Modern State Frederick Neuhouser, Foundations of Hegel ‘s Social Theory    Z.A. Pelczynski, ed., The State and Civil Society Robert Pippin, Idealism as Modernism: Hegelian Variations, chs 1, 4, 5  Charles Taylor, Hegel Allen Wood, Hegel ‘s Ethical Thought

Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Intro.; Vol. 1: Part I, chs 3-5; Part II, chs 1-4, 6-10; Vol. II: Part I, chs 1-4, 8, 10, 13, 17, 20; Part II, chs 1-8, 11-15, 18, 20; Part III, chs 8, 9, 1 1. -13, 17, 19, 21, 22; Part IV, chs 1-8
George Armstrong Kelly, The Humane Comedy: Constant, Tocqueville, and French Liberalism       Jack Lively, Social and Political Thought of Alexis de Tocqueville Pierre Manent. Tocqueville and the Nature of Democracy L. Siedentop, Tocqueville, and ‘Two Liberal Traditions’ in A. Ryan, ed., The Idea of Freedom      Cheryl Welch, De Tocqueville Sheldon Wolin, Tocqueville Between Two Worlds

*Marx, ‘On the Jewish Question,’ Contribution to the Critique of Hegel ‘s Philosophy of Right: Introduction; Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844; The German Ideology, Part I; Manifesto of the Communist Party; Capital, selections from vols I and III; Critique of the Gotha Programme, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, The Civil War in France (excerpts in The Marx-Engels Reader, 2nd edition, ed. Tucker) Shlomo Avineri, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx    Isaiah Berlin, ‘Historical Materialism,’ in Four Essays on Liberty    G.A. Cohen, Karl Marx’s Theory of History Jon Elster, Making Sense of Marx Leszek Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism David Leopold, The Young Karl Marx  Steven Lukes, Marxism and Morality G. Stedman Jones, ‘Introduction’ to The Communist Manifesto, ed. G. Stedman Jones  Jonathan Wolff, Why Read Marx Today?   Allen W. Wood, Karl Marx

*J. S. Mill, Utilitarianism; On Liberty; Considerations on Representative Government; The Subjection of Women; Principles of Political Economy, 7th edition, Book IV, chs 6-7, Book V, chs 1, 11 F. R. Berger, Happiness, Justice and Freedom: The Moral and Political Philosophy of J.S. Mill         S. Collini, D. Winch, and J. Burrow, That Noble Science of Politics Susan Okin, Women in Western Political Thought, ch. 9 Andrew Pyle. ed., Liberty: Contemporary Responses to John Stuart Mill Alan Ryan, J.S. Mill John Skorupski, John Stuart Mill John Skorupski, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Mill C.L. Ten, Mill on Liberty, esp. ch. 2  Nadia Urbinati, Mill on Democracy   Dennis Thompson, John Stuart Mill and Representative Government Nietzsche, On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life; Beyond Good and Evil; Genealogy of Morals Steven Aschheim, The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany Peter Bergmann, Nietzsche: The Last Antipolitical German Alexander Nehamas, Nietzsche: Life as Literature Richard Schacht, ed., Nietzsche, Genealogy Morality; and Nietzsche’s Postmoralism    Tracy Strong, Friedrich Nietzsche and the Politics of Transfiguration Michael Tanner, Nietzsche Raymond Geuss, ‘Nietzsche and genealogy’; ‘Kultur, Bildung, Geist’; and ‘Nietzsche and morality,’ all repr. in Geuss, Morality, Culture, and History  Brian Leiter, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Nietzsche on Morality
Weber, ‘The Profession and Vocation of Politics,’ ‘Suffrage and Democracy in Germany,’ and ‘Parliament and Government in Germany under a New Political Order,’ all in Weber: Political Writings, ed. P. Lassman and R. Speirs; ‘The Types of Legitimate Domination,’ in Max Weber: Economy and Society, ed. G. Roth and C. Wittich, vol. 1; ‘Economy and Law,’ in ibid., vol. 2 Peter Breiner, Max Weber and Democratic Politics
Wolfgang Mommsen, Max Weber and German Politics, 1890-1920 Chris Thornhill, ‘Max Weber’, in: Political Theory in Modern Germany Richard Bellamy, ‘Liberalism Disenchanted’, in: Liberalism and Modern Society Wilhelm Hennis, Max Weber: Essays in Reconstruction Lawrence Scaff, Fleeing the Iron Cage

III. Norms and concepts
1. Authority and political obligation Hannah Arendt, ‘What is Authority?,’ in Arendt, Between Past and Future Hugo Bedau, ed. Civil Disobedience in Focus (essays by Thoreau, King, Haksar, Raz, Greenawalt)   Ronald Dworkin, Law’s Empire, ch 6 John Rawls, A Theory of Justice  Joseph Raz, The Morality of Freedom J. Raz, ‘Introduction’ to Raz (ed.) Authority A. John Simmons, Moral Principles and Political Obligations; Justification and Legitimacy  Michael Walzer, Obligations    Max Weber, ‘Politics as a Vocation’, ‘Bureaucracy,’ ‘The Sociology of Charismatic Authority,’ in H. H. Gerth and C. W. Mills (eds) From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, chs 4, 8-9 Robert Paul Wolff, In Defense of Anarchy

2. Constitutionalism and the rule of law   Ronald Dworkin, Law’s Empire; Freedom ‘s Law Jon Elster, ed., Democracy and Constitutionalism John Hart Ely, Democracy and Distrust: A Theory of Judicial Review F.A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty John Rawls, A Theory of Justice and Political Liberalism Joseph Raz, The Authority of Law and Ethics and the Public Domain. ch. 17 Jeremy Waldron. Liberal Rights Jeremy Waldron, Law and Disagreement

3. Democracy

Joshua Cohen, Philosophy, Politics, and Democracy Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition Monica Brito Vieira and David Runciman, Representation  Robert Dahl, Democracy and its Critics Anthony Downs, An Economic Theory of Democracy David Estlund, ed.. Democracy (papers by Christiano, Waldron. Cohen, Habermas. Miller)  David Estlund, Democratic Authority   Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson, Democracy and Disagreement Jurgen Habermas, Between Facts and Norms Bernard Manin, The Principles of Representative Government Hannah Pitkin. The Concept of Representation  Adam Przeworksi, ‘A Minimalist Conception of Democracy: A Defense,’ in I. Shapiro and C.   Hacker -Cordon (eds) Democracy’s Value John Rawls, A Theory of Justice John Rawls, Political Liberalism Carl Schmitt, The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy J.A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Part IV Iris M. Young, Democracy and Inclusion

4.  Freedom
Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition Isaiah Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty  Patrick Devlin, The Enforcement of Morals  Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously Joel Feinberg, Rights, Justice and the Bounds of Liberty H.L.A. Hart, Law, Liberty, and Morality     G. C. MacCallum, ‘Negative and Positive Freedom,’ Phil. Rev. 76 (1967), 312-34, repr. in P. Laslett and    others, eds., Philosophy, Politics and Society, 4th series David Miller, ed., Liberty (esp. articles by Hayek, Arendt, MacCallum, Cohen, Taylor, Skinner)          Robert Nozick, Anarchy State and Utopia John Rawls, A Theory of Justice John Rawls, Political Liberalism Joseph Raz, The Morality of Freedom T. M. Scanlon, ‘A Theory of Freedom of Expression,’ Philosophy & Public Affairs 1 (1971)       Quentin Skinner, Liberty Before Liberalism Jeremy Waldron, Liberal Rights
5. Global justice David Miller, On Nationality David Miller, National Responsibility and Global Justice Joshua Cohen, ‘Minimalism about Human Rights: the best we can hope for?’ Journal of Political Philosophy 12 (2004) 190-213 Thomas Nagel, ‘The Problem of Global Justice,’ Philosophy & Public Affairs 33 (2005) 113-47  Thomas Pogge, World Poverty and Human Rights John Rawls, The Law of Peoples Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political Henry Shue, Basic Rights Yael Tamir. Liberal Nationalism       Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars

6. Identity, difference and pluralism Benedict Anderson. Imagined Communities Anthony Appiah and Amy Gutmann, Color Conscious Brian Barry, Culture and Equality Seyla Benhabib, et al., Feminist Contentions: A Philosophical Exchange Seyla Benhabib, ed., Democracy and Difference Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism Will Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship David Miller, On Nationality Susan Okin, Justice, Gender and the Family Carole Pateman, The Sexual Contract Yael Tamir. Liberal Nationalism     Charles Taylor, ‘The Politics of Recognition,’ in A. Gutmann, ed., Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference

7. Justice and equality Elizabeth Anderson, ‘What is the point of equality?,’ Ethics 109 (1999)  M. Clayton and A. Williams (eds) The Ideal of Equality (papers by: Nagel, Scanlon, Parfit) G.A.Cohen, ‘On the Currency of Egalitarian Justice,’ Ethics 99 (1989)              G.A. Cohen, Self-:Ownership, Freedom and Equality G.A. Cohen, Rescuing Justice and Equality
Ronald Dworkin, Sovereign Virtue Harry Frankfurt, ‘Equality as a Moral Ideal,’ Ethics, 1987 (or as repr. in his The Importance of What We Care About) Thomas Nagel, Equality and Partiality Robert Nozick, Anarchy State and Utopia Susan Okin. Justice, Gender and the Family John Rawls, A Theory of Justice John Rawls, Political Liberalism Michael Sandel, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice     T. M. Scanlon, ‘Contractualism and Utilitarianism,’ in A. Sen and B. William, eds., Utilitarianism and    Beyond, or in Scanlon, The Difficulty of Toleration Amartya Sen, ‘Equality of What?’ in Sen, Choice, Welfare, and Measurement  Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice Bernard Williams, ‘The Idea of Equality,’ repr. in Williams, Problems of the Self  Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference

8. Power Brian Barry, Democracy, Power and Justice (essays on power) Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish    Michel Foucault, ‘Power, Right, Truth,’ in P. Pettit and R. Goodin (eds) A Companion to Political    Philosophy Albert Hirschmann, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty Steven Lukes, Power: a radical view Steven Lukes, ed., Power Robert Nozick, ‘Coercion,’ in S. Morgenbesser and M. White (eds) Philosophy, Science and Method: Essays in Honor of Ernest Nagel     Max Weber, ‘Politics as a Vocation’ and ‘Bureaucracy,’ in H.H. Gerth and C.W. Mills (eds) From Max Weber, chs 4, 8

9.  Public reason Seyla Benhabib, Situating the Self: Gender, Community, and Postmodernism in Contemporary Ethics  Joshua Cohen, ‘Truth and Public Reason,’ Philosophy and Public Affairs 37 (2009) 2-42 Raymond Geuss, The Idea of a Critical Theory Jürgen Habermas, ‘Discourse Ethics: Notes on a Program of Philosophical Justification,’ in Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action Alasdair Maclntyre, After Virtue Michael Oakeshott, Rationalism in Politics John Rawls, Political Liberalism John Rawls, ‘The Idea of Public Reason Revisited,’ in The Law of Peoples Michael Walzer, The Company of Critics Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy Bernard Williams, In the Beginning Was the Deed

10. Rights Joel Feinberg, ‘The Nature and Value of Rights,’ repr. in Rights, Justice and the Bounds of Liberty      John Finnis, Natural Law and Natural Rights W. N. Hohfeld, Fundamental Legal Conceptions Robert Nozick, Anarchy State and Utopia Henry Shue, Basic Rights Charles Taylor, ‘Atomism,’ in Taylor, Philosophical Papers, vol. 2 Jeremy Waldron, ed.. Rights, esp. Introduction, articles by Hart and MacDonald Jeremy Waldron, The Right to Private Property
(On rights, also consider works by Dworkin, Nozick, Rawls, Raz and Waldron under Freedom above.)
Appendix: Approaches to the study of political thought
Isaiah Berlin, ’Does Political Theory Still Exist?,’ Philosophy, Politics and Society, ed. P. Laslett and W.G.   Runciman, second series, repr. in Berlin, The Proper Study of Mankind William Connolly, ‘Essentially Contested Concepts in Politics,’ in The Terms of. Political Discourse  Michael Freeden, Ideologies and Political Theory John Rawls, Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy     Quentin Skinner, ‘Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas,’ History and Theory 8 (1969), 3-53, repr. in J. Tully, ed., Meaning and context: Quentin Skinner and his critics; revised version in Skinner, Visions of Politics, vol.1, with other relevant essays on method     Leo Strauss, ‘What is Political Philosophy?,’ ‘Persecution and the Art of Writing,’ repr. in What is Political Philosophy? James Tully, ed., Meaning and Context    Sheldon Wolin , ‘Political Theory as a Vocation,’ APSR 63 (1969) 1062-82, repr. in M. Fleisher, ed.,              Machiavelli and the Nature of Political Thought






Fact or fiction? Your call.

“There can be no liberty for a community which lacks the means by which to detect lies” –Walter Lippmann

This is a public service announcement from



The Center for the Study of Applied Equivocation

In the continuing effort to bring readers the tools

that will free us from the tyranny of

cunning arguments and lying liars.

OK, that is all ridiculous of course, but anything I say, if it is well constructed, could be true or false and how would the reader know the difference? We are navigating through some deceptive times and the deceivers know there are skills that can be learned to persuade others that purposefully work around the truth, not for the truth.

The ability to form persuasive arguments that are not truthful is an ancient art currently being used by people who want your vote and your money.

“The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor; it is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others; and it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in the dissimilar.” —Aristotle, De Poetica

The purpose of this article is to begin building the foundation of knowledge sources that can be used to help the readers make informed decisions about American politics. The goal of this writing is to make the readers self-sufficient truth-gatherers.

The problem:

When constructed metaphors become the only message, the message becomes the truth, then all we are is passive followers — debt-slaves — without representation.

I just assume, for purposes of citizenship and respect for America, that we are being lied to by people who want our money and our votes. Whether or not my assumption is a clear understanding of this country, prudence dictates that we should be able to make our own, informed decisions – just in case.

The only alternatives to finding the truth for ourselves is either believing in nothing – certainly nothing for sure, or believing what other people tell us is true. Both are recipes for personal and national disaster.

Most of what we come into contact with is designed to influence us. What other reason can there be for the effort it takes to make information and pass it along? We are not doing poetry here or escape literature. We are working to pull some meaning from the chaos. We need to participate in our own futures. That is going to take some knowledge.

Consider how we get our information:

Six companies decide what consumers/citizens hear, read, see, know. At the same time, public schools are designed to feed the economy. Very few American schools have critical reasoning curricula:

but the majority of State schools have standardized tests.

Not exactly the foundation for informed consent.

I might be stepping into Conspiracy Theory Land, but I think those 6 corporations might talk to each other and they might talk to any number of the whores and traitors who currently darken America’s Congress. Add to the frenzy the Supreme Court decision that has recently made it possible for those 6 corporations and the whores and traitors to talk endlessly and exchange gifts without limits. There is some evidence that leads me to believe whores and traitors, and their business overlords will say anything to get what they want, and what they want most often, has very little to do with what citizens in America need. That’s just my guess.

Much of the information we struggle with during elections come to us through what is loosely defined as journalism. Part of the attachments to this article is the Handbook all “journalists” should be using when they investigate a story. Now it is the reader’s handbook. It can be useful to learn what is critically missing in a story before foolishness is taken as truth.

Much of the information we receive comes from social media – the Wild, Wild West in all its lawless and graceless wonder. There, things like hyper-epistemology and hypo-epistemology and implied consensus and constructed equivocation, rule; nothing can be taken for truth. The wilderness still and again.

In the real wilderness, when we were hunting and gathering to live, knowing when to duck was usually good enough. One mistake in the ducking department and it was all over. In our world, a similar mistake, either from our lack of understanding or our failure to check for truth, may not get us dead, but ignorance can ruin lives for decades, without the merciful finality of instant death. We just limp through life, alive – kind of – but not in charge of our lives.

To get an idea of the disconnect between the truth and what we are fed, consider the two following pieces of information:

First is an abstract from recent research that found the things we are being sold for facts have not been verified:

To check or not to check: An exploratory study on source checking by Dutch journalists


“Verifying information is one of the core activities of journalism, however recent research shows many stories derive from unchecked information from news agencies and PR material. That being said, reporters who do not use this pre-packaged material, but who instead produce original stories based on independent research, might be journalists who stay devoted to the verification of information. Therefore, this study focuses on in-depth stories that originated inside the newsroom. We expected that these kinds of stories would be checked and double-checked, because time constraints are less important and these stories are characteristic of independent, quality journalism. Contrary to this expectation, the results show that even these kinds of stories are not always vetted. The lack of time was seldom mentioned as an excuse. Our research points to avoidance mechanisms which inhibit journalists from verifying their information.”

Next, look at how information can be manufactured:

The following websites create article titles that research proves will sell. Once again, they create article titles that will sell.

GOOGLE: Headline generators: About 462,000 results (0.33 seconds)

I plugged in the information about

The Center for the Study of Applied Equivocation – a non-existent thing, and got the following usable, useful, article titles:

Results from Free Headline Generator: for

The Center for the Study of Applied Equivocation

A fictitious entity


How to uncover equivocation in political discussions so readers can find the truth for themselves

They Laughed When I Said I’d uncover equivocation in political discussions– But When I independently verified of the truth, They Begged Me for My Secret!

7 Secrets to How to uncover equivocation in political discussions so readers can find the truth for themselves

Want to help readers find the truth for themselves? Here’s How to uncover equivocation in political discussions Now!

FREE Report Reveals 5 Secrets to uncover equivocation in political discussions

New Discovery Reveals How to uncover equivocation in political discussions!

Who Else Wants to uncover equivocation in political discussions and help readers find the truth for themselves?!

It’s True: You Really Can uncover equivocation in political discussions and Here’s How…

New information resources Helps Your readers find the truth for themselves… Guaranteed!

Tests Now Show Our information resources Can Help You readers can find the truth for themselves

These are only ten of the hundreds of titles generated to write articles about NO THING.

We don’t even have to come up with our own titles, what we write about can be given to us by some formula that creates a snappy title that we can just fill in.

The created metaphor can create and drive the discussion. Give that a second to build some import or give that the time it deserves and watch this:

There’s more: receives “comments” every week from people who create blog content in the same way blog titles are created. For a few pieces of silver, I don’t even need to have an original idea or any presentation skills whatever, to be a successful blogger in America.

For now, this article will focus on the ways we can protect ourselves from constructed, but believable lies.

Here are some tools for self-defense.

By far, the most important resource to protect ourselves from cunning arguments and lying liars:

100+ Self-Education Resources for Lifelong Learners


Verification handbook for investigative reporters

Good reporting has a method. When that tried and true method is altered or important steps in the process are just left out, the truth of the article can be questioned. The truth of an issue can’t be effectively questioned by people who don’t know what it takes to get to the truth. If the reader is interested in that level of self-sufficiency, try these sites:

Good luck

Story-based inquiry: A manual for investigative journalists


Ten Steps to Investigative Reporting


Resources to help us learn the facts to make up our own minds

Get Your Facts Right – 6 Fact Checking Websites That Help You Know the Truth

A list of fact-checking websites

How to Fact Check

Political Fact-Checking Under Fire

A guide for journalists on how to access government information

To Catch a Liar, Ask the Right Question


How to choose your news – Damon Brown

Skills and Strategies | Fake News vs. Real News: Determining the Reliability of Sources

Critical realism on the limits to critical social science

Critical Realism and Recent Developments in Social Theory

Top 15 most popular websites:

Additional resources


World Health Organization

United Nations

U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization

International Atomic Energy Agency

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

U.S. State Department

U.S. Defense Department

U.S. House of Representatives

U.S. Senate


U.S. Government Accountability Office

CIA World Factbook







The Art is in the Questions.


We are in the beginnings of the Information Age. Knowledge, or what passes for knowledge, is an everyday concern for most of us. “Are we being lied to again”, is a common question – the answer is all important.

The people who know how to ask the right questions will find the answers. Those who cannot pierce the wall of self-interest and lies are always left wondering and vulnerable.

Knowledge is possible, truth can be found, but it’s all in the questions.

The following article is another installment of MarksNotes public service announcements for individual freedom:

The Socratic Method

“But those gardens made up of letters, it is by way of play, it seems, that he will sow and write them; and each time he writes, building up a treasure of recollection against the forgetfulness of old age, for him if he ever reaches it, and for all those who follow in his footsteps, he will find pleasure in watching the growth of these tender shoots. And when other men will indulge in other kinds of plays, drinking-parties and the like, he, on the contrary, will likely spend his time playing the way I said. ” (Phædrus, 276d)


How Google works

The Socratic Method


The method used by Business:

Plato’s Dialogues



persuasionFor the purposes of this article I’d like to make some assumptions:

  1. The reason many people write on social media sites is to persuade other people.
  2. There is a big difference between knowing something and being able to effectively communicate that knowledge.
  3. There are effective methods of communication to help transfer information from one person to another. [other than yelling, cussing and insults]
  4. The better we learn how to communicate the better chance we will have to persuade others.
  5. It’s not what we say, it’s how we say it that matters.

If we can agree on these points, the following information can be the foundation for effective persuasion.pers tech

Persuasive Techniques

Four steps to writing persuasive commentary

Essay Outlines & The Claim, Evidence, Warrant Model

Using Rhetorical Strategies for Persuasion

USC research and writing guides

How to site your sources in a research paper

Templates for research and outlines

aristotle triangle

Strategies for Gathering Reliable Information

Analyzing Commercials: Recognizing Methods of Persuasion and Becoming a Critical Consumer

This is funny. I don’t know if it’s facts:…


Applied Equivocation

The purpose of this article is to expose and discuss Applied Equivocation and to offer resources for further study. I think this is an important discussion because, if we cannot clearly identify the meanings from what we are told, we are at risk for believing anything.

Let’s define our terms; the death knell for equivocation:




  1. the use of ambiguous language to conceal the truth or to avoid committing oneself; prevarication.

The following is an example of Applied Equivocation with an attached analysis:


Donald Trump says:

“I think it’s a disgrace that he’s allowed to do it. I think it’s a disgrace that he’s allowed to say it,”

“You look at so many of the ministers that are backing me, and they’re backing me more so than they’re backing Cruz, and I’m winning the evangelical vote,” Trump continued. “It’s disgraceful that his father can go out and do that. And just — and so many people are angry about it. And the evangelicals are angry about it, the way he does that.”

“But I think it’s horrible,” he added. “I think it’s absolutely horrible that a man can go and do that, what he’s saying there.”

What truth can we hope to find out about Donald Trump or the worthiness of a presidential candidate from this quote?

Question: Isn’t the truth of the whole quote dependent on the definitions for what The Donald is talking about?

What is the disgrace in question?

Why does The Donald think it is a disgrace?

Is whatever was done, actually disgraceful?

Should whatever was done, have been allowed to be done?

If no, why not?

What was said?

Was whatever was said, disgraceful to be said?


That pretty much covers the first two sentences above.

Let’s take this quote apart, line by line. There is a lot being implied here, but nothing is being said. The Donald is taking the listener for a ride through the wonderful world of Applied Equivocation. Whatever the listener thinks the Donald is saying, is mostly coming from inside the listener.

Donald Trump says:

“I think it’s a disgrace that he’s allowed to do it. I think it’s a disgrace that he’s allowed to say it,”

Whatever “it” is, whatever the listeners believe “disgrace” means, whatever it was, he clearly shouldn’t be allowed to do that.

“You look at so many of the ministers that are backing me,”

How many ministers would that be? Is that so many ministers it is just unbelievable? Is that some of the ministers that are backing him but not backing him in the way that other ministers are backing him?

“… and they’re backing me more so than they’re backing Cruz,”

By the word backing, should I understand that to mean some ministers are backing Donald Trump and some are backing Cruz? Or is it still true that if a minister backs Donald Trump that minister cannot back Ted Cruz?

“…and I’m winning the evangelical vote,”

Can a vote actually be evangelical? Are these heavenly votes? How many evangelical votes is he winning? He is making it sound like he is winning all of the evangelical votes, when in fact it is highly likely that some evangelicals would vote for someone else.

Trump continued.

“It’s disgraceful that his father can go out and do that.”

Here he is simply repeating himself. See above.

“And just — and so many people are angry about it.”

Still not real clear about what was done. Not real clear about how many people are angry. Not real clear if people should actually be angry about whatever happened.

“And the evangelicals are angry about it,”

Either the evangelicals are not people like the previously mentioned people, or evangelicals needed to be mentioned more than once. Why would a politician want to mention evangelicals, who are reported to be supporting Donald Trump more than once, when he is talking about an evangelical? That’s a hard one.

“…the way he does that.”

See above.

“But I think it’s horrible,” he added. “I think it’s absolutely horrible that a man can go and do that, what he’s saying there.”

Aside from the absolutely horrible diction, in the honored tradition of Bush Jr, I ask, with all due respect, what on earth is that man talking about?

I challenge the reader to make sense of this quote without filling in a personal definition for the terms: disgraceful, it, what was said, horrible, the way he does that, and just who and how many people are angry about whatever was done and whatever was said.

It actually might have been easier if the Donald would’ve let the readers make up the story themselves. In the end, that is exactly what we must do so we can define what Donald Trump is talking about. He doesn’t appear to be interested in doing that for us. The theory here is that you can’t actually get in trouble for saying something if you don’t, in fact, say something.

That is an effective use of Applied Equivocation by Donald Trump.

Man does not understand how what is at variance agrees with itself. It is the attunement of opposite tensions like that of the bow and the Lyre. — Heraclitus

The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor; it is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others; and it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in the dissimilar. – Aristotle

Applied Equivocation studies discourse theory, cognitive science, and the delivery system, metaphors.

The following websites were chosen to give the reader a better understanding of each of these concepts.

Some insight into The Donald’s skills:

Discourse Theory:

Some great American speakers.

Letters from a Birmingham Jail — Rev. Martin Luther King:

Lincoln’s Gettysburg address:

Supreme Court superstars: the 10 greatest justices:

Fallacy files:

The developing Cognitive Science:

10 classics from cognitive science:

The Contemporary Theory of Metaphor — George Lakoff

U.C. Berkeley course list for degree in cognitive science:

U.C. Los Angeles course list for degree in cognitive science:


The Picture of Change

There have been recent discussions on these pages that have worked to find the reasons for the uncontrolled violence in urban and inner-city areas that are defined by high unemployment, low education and low participation in society, and high crime. Some blame Democrat ideologies and policies and some blame Republicans. In truth, these problems are American problems that arise from combinations of history and beliefs – they have existed since the first ships hit our shores and no one political party is responsible for the current condition.

Why we even think a big problem can easily be answered is part psychology, with pieces of American individualism and manifest destiny. We tend to narrow views and quick answers, and we truly believe we are right to do so.

Many of the conversations about reasons were accusatory in nature and focused directly on the current administration as the reason for inner city conflict. Some people clearly implied that skin color alone can create that degree of social collapse. That path to answers is represented by the circle. The whole answer is summed up short and sweet — “The President did it.”


There are clearly additional reasons for the problems in Chicago, as an example, than what President Obama may or may not have done during his Presidency. The purpose of this article is to discuss the importance of stepping back to take in the view of a bigger picture.

For the sake of this discussion, lets imagine the problems of America can be broken down into 5 categories:






Each category has its own problems and America’s problems are caused by some combination of all five categories. At the least, these are the areas we can do something about. There are other categories such as religion and media concerns, and more, but 5 will do to prove this point.

This changes our little circle of blame considerably. Any problem America is having can’t be discussed and it certainly can’t be solved without factoring in these 5 parts of America. What degree each plays in the whole depends on the problem, but the answer is never going to be found by changing only one variable. The unit changes together, or not at all.

It would be easier if this picture was the adequate representation of how we should see problems:

concentric circles

Each concentric circle can be seen to be a greater ring of understanding about the point under discussion. In this example, the point in the middle will become clearer and more correct as our knowledge and understanding transport us farther out into the rings of knowledge.

That isn’t even close.

Our only attempts at problem solving at a national level come wrapped in the interdependent and sometimes indistinguishable package of variables that follows:


The answers are found in the interdependence and the natural interactions of the things we are asking about. This is a complicated nation. The Republicans didn’t mess it all up. Neither did the Democrats. It can’t work that way. Get to a larger view, the farther rings, and that will be obvious.

What will also become obvious is that the colored picture above lives and changes while we are working on the last imbalance we thought we saw. Not only does understanding require a picture of the whole, an understanding of its parts, and how those parts bounce off of each other, but it is time sensitive, because the problem lives and it is ever fed. It isn’t an accident that the Venn Diagram above resembles a simple idea of the living atom.

There is no way out of learning. Granted there is something to be said for the people who can fix their attention to one very small detail, but they are not the people we need to fix national problems. We need intellectual jugglers with a good sense for time. Our problems are getting bigger by the day and those folks who stare into our first small circle, they resemble the Ostrich– when their head is buried in a hole, the last thing they know is that they are about to be eaten.

How We Tell Our Stories

If we look at how we and our children have been taught to communicate, it gets easier to understand why there is so little effective communication going around. Schools teach people what to think. That is the box they put us in because it is easier to control people when they are confined.

follow rules

Teachers, not gods, are left to control chaos and teach us. They are directed, for egalitarian purposes, to group us into tight, equal little bundles and pour what they think is important all over us. They are told an equal application of the goo also means equal absorption. They are, of course, completely wrong.

They may not want to be wrong, but they are pressed for time, dealing with constant disruptions, marginally educated in fields outside of their areas of teaching, forced to teach to tests, and locked in a system that is not interested in individuals or their messy ways. And because they are usually the product of their present circumstances, teachers are often as challenged as the rest of us when they are forced to write down what they think.

To bring the nightmare to life, let’s review the steps in writing a paper. These are supposed to be the steps we must take to effectively communicate our ideas. Stay with this, you are not required to participate and there will not be a grade. Yawning is expected. But, you can’t get your pudding unless you eat your meat.

According to our educational system, these are the component parts of effective communication and their expected order of presentation.


Steps for Writing the Term Paper, or The Way We Communicate

What is the question?

The Introduction:

=The thesis statement

=Statement of relevance

=Introduction to the methods of research


=Support for the thesis statement

=Examination of counter arguments

=Resolution of counter arguments


=Restatement of the thesis statement in light of evidence and objections.

=Discussion about what this answer to the question means and how it applies

to the reader.

Notice how we can’t follow the directions unless we learn the meanings of a lot of specialized terms? If we can learn all this, then we’ll have to remember this new language the next time we want to communicate something complicated. Who can do that? Who would?


A much better way to think about communicating can be seen in the skilled story teller’s presentation.

The story teller says:

I think it’s important to tell a story about: _____.

This story is important because of _____.

I learned about this story by _____.

This is the story: _____.

Some people say this is not the right story because of this: _____.

They are wrong because of this: _____.

I will review my story in light of the objections I found.

I think this story is important for these reasons: _____.

Here’s what you can do to be a part of this story.

What’s the difference between the first method and the second? They both include the necessary parts that make up effective communication. The first is a complicated collection of words and definitions, the second is a common method simple to follow. Both sets of instruction will get the job done. The difference lies in attitude and history.

The attitude of the complicated instructions is really the result of the narcissism of the gatekeepers. The gatekeepers, teachers, school administrators, school boards, college admissions boards, employers, and anyone who thinks they can gain advantage by hiding the facts, keep the doors to knowledge closed until we can prove we are worthy to learn or we can somehow pay for the privilege to know. If they can either keep us ignorant or explain things in such a way that you and I cannot understand, then they can claim to be intellectually superior. If they can make us believe they are intellectually superior, then they can most likely make us afraid not to follow them. At the least, they will be able to argue that because they are intellectual superior, then they are most likely our moral and ethical superiors as a consequence of their intellectual superiority. If our best response is something like, “Oh yeah?” they will probably end up with our money.

slow wit

There is also a difference in perspective about the way to truth. Some people believe the first set of instructions are the only way to go about writing and speaking. Curriculum developers, school administrators, many teachers and some educational elitists fall in this group. They believe in building truths. Follow the steps, construct your truth-vessel just right, and the story will be told in the best way to gain acceptance.

On the other hand, people who we read and listen to most often fall into the group of story tellers. They tell their stories with all the necessary parts, the parts found in the first tedious example, but they know the outline is not the point of the story.

Some may say the first example is the more precisely defined method. That may be true, but does its use mean the story will be better or more factual or more clearly presented?

Both ways, the scholastic method and the story telling method, a much older tradition, teach the same thing: There are ways to tell a story and there are things that must be included that make good communication. The way a story is told and what is included in the telling is the art.