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Gregory Collins, PhD

Political Theory and American Politics

University Teaching Experience:

Yale University (instructor):

Capitalism, Commodification, and Business Ethics (Fall 2019)
Classics of Ethics, Politics, and Economics (Spring 2020)


POL 363: Politics of the Sixties
POL 101: Introduction to American Politics
POL 363: Politics of the Sixties
POL 101: Introduction to American Politics
POL 401: Mass Media and American Politics
POL 316: The United States Congress


Introduction to Political Theory
Introduction to American Government
Slavery, the Constitution, and U.S. Racial Politics
Capitalism, Commodification, and Business Ethics
Classics of Ethics, Politics, and Economics: Conceptions of Freedom from Antiquity to Today


Syllabus: Introduction to Political Theory

This course will trace the history of political theory from classical antiquity to modernity. Many people today interpret the word “politics” to mean elections, campaigns, and public opinion polls. Political theory certainly includes these features of political communities, but it also draws attention to the underlying beliefs and presuppositions that shape our views on human nature, government, and political principles such as justice and equality. We can define political theory, then, as the study of the ways in which human beings seek to understand and resolve the problems posed by social life. In this sense, the intellectual value of political theory derives from its versatility and depth: it demands careful reflection on ethics, religion, culture, and economics; and on power, authority, liberty, democracy, republicanism, and constitutionalism.

Even more, the study of political theory is not just a theoretical enterprise but a practical activity as well. It allows us to apply our deepest normative convictions to immediate political debates and controversies. And it enables us to gain the knowledge necessary to help persuade others that our political beliefs merit consideration. Aristotle famously observed that man is a social animal who possesses the capacity to think and speak rationally. It is your responsibility in this course to exercise this faculty in order to deepen your understanding of the principles and foundations of political order.

Full Syllabus: Introduction to Political Theory PDF


Syllabus: Introduction to American Government

We often think of the American political system as the arena in which campaigns are run, elections take place, and public opinion polls are conducted. The study of American politics includes these activities, but it also considers the moral principles, constitutional structure, and historical evolution of political institutions in the United States. The premise of this course, then, is that we can strengthen our understanding of campaigns, elections, and polls when we examine the deeper roots of American political order.

Our survey of American politics will begin by examining the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, and the U.S. Constitution. We will analyze the debate between the Federalists and anti-Federalists over constitutional ratification, and probe the distinct characteristics of American political culture. We will further investigate the institutional foundations and development of the three branches of government, and review the transformation of domestic and foreign policy throughout U.S. history. Our final weeks will explore the different dimensions of civic participation that we associate with contemporary politics: social activism, campaigns, and elections. Although in many ways you are already familiar with these features of American constitutional democracy, this course will challenge you to think more seriously about the political substructures that enable their flourishing. Tocqueville once wrote that Americans were “born equal instead of becoming so.” It is your task in this course to determine what he meant by this comment.

Full Syllabus: Introduction to American Government PDF


Syllabus: Slavery, the Constitution, and U.S. Racial Politics

The purpose of this course is to explore how conceptions of race have shaped the evolution of political thought, institutions, and constitutional interpretation throughout U.S. history. Although the word “race” can encompass a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, our inquiry will concentrate on the events and debates that have had an impact on black Americans in particular (who, it should be mentioned, have themselves represented a rich diversity of experiences and viewpoints). The intellectual substance of this course will reflect a blend of American political thought, public law, and political history, with a specific focus on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

We will begin our study by examining the roots of slavery in British North America, the political theory of the Declaration of Independence, and the relationship between the Declaration’s ideals and the institution of slavery. We will then explore the provisions of the U.S. Constitution that contained indirect references to slavery, and discuss the extent to which the Constitution accommodated the slave interests of southern delegates. We will also examine the political and constitutional thought of Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison by investigating why they arrived at different conclusions about the compatibility between the Constitution and slavery. Next, our intellectual journey will take a closer look at the political and legal debates surrounding slavery and the Civil War, including the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates. The final part of this course will address twentieth-century legal developments involving race and public policy issues, such as desegregation, affirmative action, and reparations. As we shall learn, the connection between the American creed of liberty and the history of race relations in the United States is a difficult topic to discuss in any setting. Your task as a scholar is to confront this subject in a serious and reflective manner.

Full Syllabus: Slavery, the Constitution, and U.S. Racial Politics  PDF


Syllabus: Capitalism, Commodification, and Business Ethics

For centuries, “business” activities—such as profit-making, capital investment, and trading—were seen with a distrustful eye by many members of society for prioritizing greed over virtue and religion. The aim of this course is to cast light on this tension in contemporary culture by critically examining the ethical dilemmas that arise from the interaction between capitalism and business actors in a liberal society. The chief question that will guide our inquiry is how the incentive structure of market exchange encourages businesses to commodify social relations in a way that raises moral questions about the pursuit of profit.

We will begin by defining “ethics” and “business.” We will then explore the traditional tensions between them in the history of political and economic thought by surveying a number of key thinkers that have drawn attention to the fraught relation between markets and morality. Next we will address some of the important contemporary debates and controversies surrounding business ethics, including corporate social responsibility, sweatshops, outsourcing, public accommodations, and the use of consumer data. Each week will introduce a new theme, but the intent is for the themes to flow logically throughout the course in a manner that integrates and synthesizes the prior week’s readings and discussion. We will conclude by connecting our study of business ethics to our wider understanding of the proper role of business and capitalist enterprise in society as a whole.

This course’s reading assignments, which are taken both from academic publications and the popular press, include a blend of theoretical commentary and case studies. This balance is consistent with the mission of this course and the EPE program to use an interdisciplinary approach—covering moral theory, economics, political philosophy, and social thought—in the study of human association. Such an approach seeks to break free from the increasing specialization in the social sciences in order to demonstrate the intellectual harmony among ethics, politics, and economics. It is your responsibility to engage in this study with an open and critically reflective mind.

Full Syllabus: Capitalism, Commodification, and Business Ethics   PDF



Syllabus: Classics of Ethics, Politics, and Economics: Conceptions of Freedom from Antiquity to Today

What is freedom? Is it the freedom to satisfy our desires? Or is it the freedom to temper our desires? Is it the freedom to act as an individual agent? Or is the freedom to associate with others? This course will address these questions and others by critically examining conceptions of freedom put forth by key thinkers in Western and non-Western traditions spanning classical antiquity to modernity, including Aristotle, Lao Tzu, Al-Farabi, Aquinas, Locke, Tocqueville, Marx, and Arendt. Consistent with the intellectual mission of the Program on Ethics, Politics, and Economics, we will explore the idea of freedom through an interdisciplinary lens, taking into account not only economic liberty but also the wider moral, historical, and social contexts in which freedom is exercised.

Among various topics, this course will address the differences among ancient, medieval, and modern conceptions of freedom; freedom and democracy; the ethical preconditions of freedom; the relation among individual rights, civil society, and the state; freedom and the common good; freedom and citizenship; and freedom and equality. We will concentrate primarily on the primary texts of authors, with secondary literature and supplementary material sprinkled in when necessary. It is your responsibility to engage in this study with an open and critically reflective mind.

Full Syllabus: Classics of Ethics, Politics, and Economics: Conceptions of Freedom from Antiquity to Today   PDF