The Constitution as Applied Philosophy – Spring 2023

The Constitution as Applied Philosophy

I. Week One: January 11, 2023.

  • Exploring the Concept of Worldview. Defining “self” and “political community”

  • Modes of Political Expression: Language (literal forms; verbal and written); Artistic (music, poetry, graphic arts, drama/theater); Civil Action (voting, rallies/pro/protest, civil disobedience, lobbying)

  • The boundaries of personal and political interests

  • What can we articulate about policitcal forms: ____ocracies, political parties, organizations. What are not political forms? Families, individuals, clubs, religious organizations, tribes, associations, companies …? How do we make the distinctions?

  • Course ambitions/expections. How do we learn; reasonable expectations; how to make learning tangible; how can we share the experience with one another; Washington, DC (place, experience and people as text/curriculum)

  • Our semester as Happines? (Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness …)

II. Weeks Two-Three: January 18 and 25. The Text, Context and Subtext.

A. Text: A “preamble”: Understanding a statement of purpose at face value.

B. Text: A review of the mechanics of the Constitution.

Article 1 – Methodology for selecting a legislative body; limited and explicit Legislative Powers; organization/operation/process

Article 2 – Executive powers described; qualifications for office.

Article 3 – Judicial Powers described; qualifications; removal.

C. Embedding Slavery:

Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 (3/5ths “compromise”);

Article 1, Section 9, Clause 1 (protecting importation of human property);

Article 4, Section 2, Clause 3 (“fugitive slaves”)

D. Specifying and reserving “rights” and asserting reservation of “powers”:

i. Article 1 (certain rights/limits on powers): Ex Post Facto; Bill of Attainder; Writ of Habeas Corpus

ii. “Bill of Rights”

      • 1st Amendment (Religion, Speech, Press, Assembly, Petition)

      • 2nd Amendment (weapons)

      • 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th Amendments (rights of accused and convicted)

      • 5th and 7th Amendment (property rights)

      • 9th Amendment: Inherent Rights

      • 10th Amendment: Inherent Powers

      • 13th Amendment: Abolish Slavery

      • 14th Amendment:

        • Define citizenship

        • Recast Federalism

        • Expand definition of rights

        • Address “class” inequality – race

        • Introduce sex inequality (penalties for denying “male inhabitants” the right to vote. 15th Amendment deals with race/voting rights.

E. Colonialism, Conquest, Otherism, Persons as Property

      • European “Exploration” – a rapid descent to ordered chaos, exploitation, murder, theft and extinction. Columbus and Indigenous Persons (Arawaks)

      • Colonial Order: Separate colonies develop de jure systems of “persons as property.”

      • “Independence” – a movement built on disassociation with a Kingdom justified by reference to a ruler’s disregard for “inherent rights” and a “social contract.”

      • Post-revolution de jure slavery (racially based property rights) and conquest (eradication of indigenous sovereignty)

      • How to Make Sense of This: Worldviews. Political Theory; Economic Theory; Theological Theory; Linguistic Theory; Evolutionary Theory; Sociological Theory (race, sex, class); Philosophy.

      • How did Founders Ground This: Philosophy; Moral High Ground.

II. Weeks Four to Six: February 1, 8 and 15. Philosophical Underpinnings


A. Human Nature: Concepts of Plato (PEL Ep 40) Aristotle (PEL Ep 5), Rousseau.

B. Society, Power, Government: Locke (PEL 37, Second Treatise of Government) and Montesquieu (PEL 239 Pt1 and Pt2, Spirit of the Laws). Rousseau, Hobbes, Bentham, Smith.

C. Common Sense, Thomas Paine: Lecture

III. Week Seven: February 22. Reflection – what are our current concerns; current events? Does the philosophy align with the structure; does the structure serve the philosophy? What are the current imperfections? Do we each accept the imperfections of a process, and agree that the mechanisms are the best process for progress? How are we feeling; how do we express those feelings?

IV. Weeks Nine – Ten: March 1 and 8. Applying the Concepts: 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis – Colorado to the US Supreme Court in 2022 to consider: “Whether applying a public-accommodation law to compel an artist to speak or stay silent violates the free speech clause of the First Amendment.” Sources to SCOTUSblog.

A. Case Materials review: Respondent Brief

B. Interviews with principals: Parties; Counsel for Parties

V. Field Trip: Washington DC: (3/18-26 SPRING BREAK)

March 29 break (assuming all students attend field trip allowing for course content covered in DC)

VI. Week 12: April 5. Post field trip integration of academic materials to field trip experience. Student proposals and concepts for expressive submission/term project.

VII. Week 13: April 12. Topic to be developed based upon current event and student interest. Possible guests from 303 Creative (depending on case outcome and guest availability).

VIII. Week 14 and 15: April 19 and 26: Student Presentations. Group 1 (4/19) Group II (4/26)

IX. Week 16: May 3. Applied Philosophy. Have we been consistent? Can we articulate a personal and political worldview? Where do we go from here, as lifelong learners, to further our learning? How do we make learning a lifestyle?

    Grading Metrics:

      1. Student Preparedness: 30%

      2. In-class Engagement: 25%

      3. Quality/extent of student writings/reflections/synopsis on weekly content: 25%

      4. Final Project/Presentation: 20%