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Module VPR-2220:
Political Philosophy

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Dr Toby Betenson

Overall aims and purpose

This module will introduce political philosophy. It covers the historical development of political philosophy, from Plato and Aristotle, through to Hobbes and Rousseau, before focusing on contemporary political philosophy. Contemporary political philosophy investigates a wide range of issues relating to our life as ‘political animals’, including: the nature of political authority and obligation, whether you should obey the state; the role and function of the state, its purpose and justification; interactions between states, international politics, and human rights; the ideal form of government; the distribution (and redistribution) of wealth. All of these issues circle around the age-old philosophical question: What is justice?

Course content

This module introduces the history of political philosophy – covering Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Paine – before introducing the contemporary debates within political philosophy – including (e.g.) Rawls, Nozick, Sen, and Nussbaum. Lectures cover the nature of political authority and obligation; the role, function, and moral justification of the state; international politics; human rights; the ideal form of government; and the distribution of wealth.

Assessment Criteria


(D- to D+) Work in this band will demonstrate a cursory knowledge of the issues and arguments within both historical and contemporary political philosophy, but might show a lack of understanding, and will not demonstrate an ability to analyse or evaluate these arguments. Work in this band will fail to develop a successful argument relevant to the content of this course.


(C- to B+) Work in this band will demonstrate good knowledge and understanding of the issues and arguments within both historical and contemporary political philosophy, and (for the higher grades) will be able to apply that knowledge and understanding to the construction of an argument relevant to the content of this course. This argument might show some minor misunderstandings, or might not be presented with impeccable structure, but will nonetheless demonstrate the student's knowledge and understanding of the subject area, and will show that they are capable of constructing a logical and coherent argument.


(A- to A*) Work in this band will demonstrate comprehensive and very detailed understanding of historical and contemporary political philosophy, based on extensive background reading, and will demonstrate an outstanding ability to construct a logical and coherent argument relevant to the content of this course.

Learning outcomes

  1. To analyse, research, and construct a sustained argument applicable to the content of this course.

  2. To demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the major developments within the history of political philosophy.

  3. To demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the major themes, concepts, and arguments within political philosophy.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
ESSAY essay 50
ESSAY Essay 50

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Lecture 11
Private study 178
Seminar 11

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Articulacy in identifying underlying issues in a wide variety of debates.
  • Precision of thought and expression in the analysis and formulation of complex and controversial problems.
  • Sensitivity in interpretation of religious and philosophical texts drawn from a variety of ages and/or traditions.
  • Clarity and rigour in the critical assessment of arguments presented in such texts.
  • The ability to use and criticise specialised religious and philosophical terminology.
  • The ability to abstract and analyse arguments, and to identify flaws in them, such as false premises and invalid reasoning.
  • The ability to construct rationally persuasive arguments for or against specific religious and philosophical claims.
  • The ability to move between generalisation and appropriately detailed discussion, inventing or discovering examples to support or challenge a position, and distinguishing relevant and irrelevant considerations.
  • The ability to consider unfamiliar ideas and ways of thinking, and to examine critically presuppositions and methods within the disciplines of philosophy and religion.


Reading list

(1) Dudley Knowles, Political Philosophy (London: Routledge, 2001) (2) Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy (New York: OUP, 2001) (3) Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (Oxford: Blackwell, 1974) (4) Hobbes, Leviathan (5) Plato, Republic (6) Locke, Two Treatises

Courses including this module

Optional in courses: