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Robert G. Moser, Chair BAT 2.116, Mailcode A1800, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-5121

Erik Dempsey

Affiliated Faculty, Adjuncts and Lecturers

Lecturer and Assistant Director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts and Ideas

Contact

Biography

Erik Dempsey (PhD, Boston College) has been a postdoctoral fellow at UT's Jefferson Center for Core Texts and Ideas since August 2008.   He completed his doctorate at Boston College in june 2007.  He is interested in understanding human virtue, and the proper place of politics in a well-lived human life, the different ways in which human virtue is understood in different political situations, and the ways in which human virtue may transcend any political situation.  His dissertation looks at Aristotle's treatment of prudence in the Nicomachean Ethics, and Aristotle's suggestion that virtue should be understood as an end in itself.   He is currently at work turning his dissertation into a book by adding chapters which consider Thomas Aquinas' interpretation of Aristotle in terms of natural law, and Marsilius of Padua's critique of Thomas.

He grew up in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY and graduated from Hastings High School.  As an undergraduate, he attended St. John's College in Annapolis, MD where he began to study the Great Books seriously.  From June 2000 until August 2001, he worked for DynCorp in Chantilly, VA, doing mathematical modeling and providing other support for the GETS program.  From September 2007 - May 2008, he taught in the Herbst Program for the Humanities at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Interests

human virtue, and the proper place of politics in a well-lived human life, the different ways in which human virtue is understood in different political situations, and the ways in which human virtue may transcend any political situation

GOV 312P • Consttnl Prins: Core Texts-Hon

39075 • Spring 2014
Meets MWF 200pm-300pm BEN 1.122
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Prerequisites: GOV 310 or equivalent

 

Course Description: This class is study of the principles of American politics based on a selection of great texts from the American political tradition. We’ll explore the purposes of our system of government, especially its promises of freedom and equality, and we’ll explore the kinds of character, the specific virtues and vices, which American life tends to foster.

 

The backbone of the course will be a close reading of Alexis de Tocqueville’s great work, Democracy in America. We’ll supplement that with other key texts about the American political tradition and drawn from later in the country’s history, which will give us the opportunity to consider American constitutional principles in different contexts. There will be units on race, religion, economic life, and moral relativism.

 

Grading Policy:

60%: 3 papers of about 1500 words

25%: Final exam

15%: Reading quizzes and class participation

 

 

Texts:

Course Reader, including excerpts from the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,Federalist Papers, the Anti-Federalist, Frederick Douglass, Booker T Washington, WEB DuBois, and others

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty

Hugh Heclo, Christianity and American Democracy

GOV 351L • Morality And Politics

39205 • Fall 2013
Meets MWF 200pm-300pm WAG 201
(also listed as CTI 325 )
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Course Description

“Natural right” refers to a standard of justice which is somehow given by nature, that is, which can in principle be known at all times and in all places.  This class will be an exploration of different understandings of that idea.  In examining it, we will have to raise the basic questions of what justice is and how it can be known.  We will look at the different components of this question, including what the common good is, what its relationship is to the individual good, and what claims of individuals the political community needs to respect.  That means that, along the way, we will have to consider the most basic question of what kind of life is best for human beings, or put differently, what happiness is.  As we proceed, we will consider the differing ways in which this idea has been treated throughout history, beginning with the ancient Greeks and culminating with critics of the Enlightenment. 

Our class will emphasize four critically important approaches to the idea of natural right.  We will begin with classical thought, as embodied in Aristotle’s Ethics and Politics, where the idea of natural right was given its first robust articulation.  We will then consider the medieval Christian approach, and what happens when natural right exists alongside the Christian faith.  We will focus on the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, together with some passages from Francisco Suarez, one of the great later Thomists, and the great critics of Thomas, Marsilius of Padua.  We will then turn to the account of natural right that defined the early modern approach to politics through a close reading of Hobbes’ Leviathan.  Finally, we will pose the question of whether it even makes sense to appeal to nature as a standard for how one ought to live, by studying the Discourses of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. 

In each case, we will look at our authors, not merely as representatives of historical trends, but as profound thinkers who can teach us important truths about our own lives.

 

List of Texts: Aristotle, Ethics and Politics; Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae; Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan; Jean-Jacques Rousseau, First and Second Discourse

 

Grading Rubric: 40% Papers (2 papers, 3-5 pages each); 20% midterm exam; 25% final exam; 15% attendance and quizzes

GOV 379S • Jerusalem And Athens

39345 • Fall 2013
Meets MWF 1100am-1200pm WAG 310
(also listed as CTI 335, LAH 350 )
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Course Description

In this class, we will study the age-old confrontation between Jerusalem and Athens – that is, between the teaching of the Bible and the politics and philosophy of the ancient Greeks.  We will compare the way in which each tradition answered basic questions about morality and politics, including: What is virtue? What is justice?  What is the best political order?  What do we owe our community?  In what manner are we morally culpable or sinful?   What is the role of philosophic thought in the community and in the best individual life?  And above all, can we know, on the basis of human reason alone, how we ought to live?  Or are we in need of divine guidance?  

The Greeks and the Bible offer the deepest and most deeply opposed answers to these questions.  Through this class, we will use core texts from both traditions to come to grips with the fundamental alternative that they constitute. 

We will approach these issues entirely through a slow, close reading of key parts of the Hebrew Bible and Aristotle’s Nicomeachen Ethics

 

List of Texts: The Bible, including selections from Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, 1 and 2 Samuel, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes; Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

 

Grading Rubric: 60% papers (3 papers, 3-5 pages each) 15% short, frequent writing assignments (assigned in class; 1-2 pages) 15% attendance and participation 10% in-class quizzes  

GOV 312P • Consttnl Prins: Core Texts-Hon

38750 • Spring 2013
Meets MWF 200pm-300pm MEZ 2.124
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Prerequisites:

GOV 310 (you may discuss the possibility of an exemption with the instructor)

 

Course Description:

This class is a study of the basic principles of American political life: Democracy, equality, and liberty.  Through the close reading of core texts from the American political tradition, we will attempt to see how these ideals took hold in the US, what arguments were made on their behalf, and what possible pitfalls there are for a society dedicated to those ideals.  

 

Grading Policy:

60% - Three Papers.  You will be required to do rewrites for at least one paper

20% - Final Exam

10% - Attendance (required at all class meetings) and Participation

5% - Quizzes

5% - Short reviews of other students’ work

 

Texts:

Second Treatise of Government, John Locke

Federalist Papers

The Anti-Federalist

Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville

Additional readings (in course packet) 

GOV 351J • Might And Right Among Nations

38720 • Fall 2012
Meets MWF 200pm-300pm UTC 4.124
(also listed as CTI 323, EUS 348 )
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Course Description

This class is a study of international relations through the lens of political philosophy.  Through a careful study of classic texts, we will raise and attempt to answer basic questions about relations among states, including: What place does justice in issues of war and peace?  Under what circumstances is war just?  How do religious teachings affect one’s approach to foreign policy, and whatdifferences are there between different religions?  Are there any natural laws which govern how states should conduct themselves to each other?  How have modern political institutions shaped international relations?  Is it reasonable to hope for an era of lasting international peace, and if so, how might it be attained?  How can looking at war and peace help us come to a better understanding of what justice itself is?

We will see the answers which competing philosophic schools have given to these questions, and the arguments they made for them. 

 Our study will cover: the classical republican struggle for and against empire in Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War; Christian Just War theory in Aquinas and Vitoria; Islamic Jihad Theory; the moral supremacy of independent national sovereignty in Hobbes; the defense of a globalizing moral community achieved through commercialization by Montesquieu; and the proposal of a world legal order achieved through international legal organization byKant.

 By studying these works, we will gain a better understanding of the most common contemporary approaches to war and peace.  Our goal is not only to get a better sense of where the reigning answers to our questions came from, but to try to answerthem for ourselves as best we can.  As such, this class requires serious engagement, a willingness to think critically about one’s own beliefs, and regular, active participation. 

 

Grading Policy

Grading will be based on two short papers, a midterm, a final exam, quizzes, participation in discussion sections, and attendance.

GOV 312P • Consttnl Prins: Core Texts-Hon

38580 • Spring 2012
Meets MWF 200pm-300pm MEZ 2.124
show description

This is a class on American politics based on the close reading of primary texts that have shaped or that reflect deeply upon American democracy.  Readings will include the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the Federalist Papers and important writings of the Anti-Federalists, and Tocqueville's Democracy in America.

GOV 379S • Jerusalem And Athens

38877 • Spring 2012
Meets MWF 1100am-1200pm MEZ 1.120
(also listed as CTI 335, LAH 350 )
show description

In this class, we will study the age-old confrontation between Jerusalem and Athens – that is, between the teaching of the Bible and the politics and philosophy of the ancient Greeks.  We will compare the way in which each tradition answered basic questions about morality and politics, including: What is virtue? What is justice?  What is the best political order?  What do we owe our community?  In what manner are we morally culpable or sinful?   What is the role of philosophic thought in the community and in the best individual life?  And above all, can we know, on the basis of human reason alone, how we ought to live?  Or are we in need of divine guidance? The Greeks and the Bible offer the deepest and most deeply opposed answers to these questions. 

Through this class, we will use core texts from both traditions to come to grips with the fundamental alternative that they constitute.

Texts

The Bible, including selections from Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, 1 and 2 Samuel, and Ecclesiastes Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

Requirements

60% papers (3 papers, 3-5 pages each) 15% short, frequent writing assignments (assigned in class; 1-2 pages) 15% attendance and participation 10% in-class quizzes  

GOV 335M • Might And Right Among Nations

38683 • Fall 2011
Meets MWF 200pm-300pm UTC 4.124
(also listed as CTI 335, EUS 348 )
show description

This class is a study of international relations through the lens of political philosophy.  Through a careful study of classic texts, we will raise and attempt to answer basic questions about relations among states, including: What place does justice in issues of war and peace?  Under what circumstances is war just?  How do religious teachings affect one’s approach to foreign policy, and what differences are there between different religions?  Are there any natural laws which govern how states should conduct themselves to each other?  How have modern political institutions shaped international relations?  Is it reasonable to hope for an era of lasting international peace, and if so, how might it be attained?  How can looking at war and peace help us come to a better understanding of what justice itself is?

We will see the answers which competing philosophic schools have given to these questions, and the arguments they made for them.  Our study will cover: the classical republican struggle for and against empire in Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War; Christian Just War theory in Aquinas and Vitoria; Islamic Jihad Theory; the moral supremacy of independent national sovereignty in Hobbes; the defense of a globalizing moral community achieved through commercialization by Montesquieu; and the proposal of a world legal order achieved through international legal organization by Kant. 

By studying these works, we will gain a better understanding of the most common contemporary approaches to war and peace.  Our goal is not only to get a better sense of where the reigning answers to our questions came from, but to try to answer them for ourselves as best we can.  As such, this class requires serious engagement, a willingness to think critically about one’s own beliefs, and regular, active participation.  

GOV 314 • Classics Of Socl/Polit Thought

38500 • Fall 2010
Meets MW 1000am-1100am BUR 212
(also listed as CTI 302, CTI 302, EUS 302 )
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In this class, we will explore certain core texts in the history of social science, looking at the ways in which some of the West’s greatest thinkers have approached the study of the social and political world.  Their competing approaches reflect their different answers to questions about human nature, happiness, politics, and justice.  By reading these texts and thinking about the fundamental questions which they raise, our goal will be to attain a more nuanced and deeper understanding of our own society.

The course will begin by looking at some of the classic comprehensive statements about the nature of social and political life, including readings from Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, and Montesquieu.   We will then trace some of the most important developments in modern social science, focusing especially on economic thought, and on attempts to understand human life on the model of modern natural science.  We will conclude with a brief consideration of Tocqueville’s science of democracy and democratic man.  Throughout the course, readings from contemporary social science will highlight ways in which the authors we study continue to exert a powerful influence on the study of politics and society.

PRELIMINARY READING LIST.

We will read key portions of the following texts.  On average, the readings will be 50-100 pages per week. 

Aristotle, Politics

Thomas Aquinas, De Regno; Summa Theologica

Montesquieu, Spirit of the Laws

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, First Discourse

Auguste Comte, Positive Philosophy

Emile Durkheim, “Montesquieu’s Contribution to the Rise of Social Science”

Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents
Max Weber, Science as a Vocation and Politics as a Vocation

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Select readings in modern social science

COURSE REQUIREMENTS: All students will be required to select one of the two following options at the beginning of the semester.

option one—Mid-term exam option

40%—Final Exam, closed book, held in the final exam period; format will be questions selected at random from study questions handed out at the end of term covering material from the entire term.

30%—Mid-term closed book exam.

20%—Attendance (required) at all lectures; each absence after the first, not excused by a doctor’s note, will subtract 10% from your attendance grade (which is equal to 2% of your overall final grade).

10%—Closed book quizzes on the readings (clues for which will be in the weekly study questions) administered at the start of the class hour.  The quizzes are meant to ensure that students do the reading, and so will not be announced beforehand.

OPTION TWO—PAPER/DISCUSSION OPTION

Students taking this option will pariticpate in bi-weekly discussion sections in addition to attending lectures.  On days when there are discussions, students will not attend lecture.

35%—Final Exam, closed book, held in the final exam period; format will be questions selected at random from study questions handed out at the end of term covering material from the entire term.

30%—Two short analytical/interpretative essays (1500-2000 words each) on topics to be assigned.

10%—Attendance (required) at all lectures; each absence after the first, not excused by a doctor’s note, will subtract 10% from your attendance grade (which is equal to 1.5% of your overall final grade).

10%—Closed book quizzes on the readings (clues for which will be in the weekly study questions) administered at the start of the class hour.  The quizzes are meant to ensure that students do the reading, and so will not be announced beforehand.

15%—Participation in bi-weekly discussion sections.

 

GOV 335M • Might And Right Among Nations

38803 • Spring 2010
Meets MWF 1000-1100 MEZ B0.306
(also listed as WCV 320 )
show description

 

 

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