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Contemporary Political Theories

Module Code: PO4610

Module Name: Contemporary Political Theories 2017-18

  • ECTS Weighting: 15
  • Semester/Term Taught: Michaelmas + Hilary Term
  • Contact Hours: One two-hour seminar a week
  • Module Personnel: Lecturer - Dr Gavin Morrison
  • Pre-requisite: PO2610 History of Political Thought

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this module, it is expected that students will have:

  • Acquired a detailed understanding of the leading theories of justice in contemporary political theory.
  • Become familiar with the basic concepts of political theory – not only justice but also related concepts such as rights, democracy, and liberalism.
  • Gained an understanding of how to apply theoretical arguments to real world problems and then evaluate different solutions.
  • Developed skill at constructing, analysing, and critiquing political arguments.
  • Applied argumentative skill both in the class room and in written work.
  • Reflected upon the implications of political ideas for life outside of the classroom.

Module Content

Politics, as the noted political scientist Harold Lasswell once said, is all about who gets what, when, and how.  It is about distribution of benefits and burdens of all kinds, whether they be rights, duties, opportunities, material goods, or plain old-fashioned cash.  Anyone concerned with politics must therefore be concerned with principles that ought to govern this distribution.  These principles are principles of justice.  This module is focused on understanding these principles and applying them to crucial issues in contemporary politics.

The first half of the module will focus on how to identify these principles and the different contemporary schools of thought regarding justice – utilitarianism, liberal egalitarianism, and libertarianism.  We will examine the respective advantages and disadvantages of each of these theories.  The second half of the module will focus on the applications of these theories to the reality of major issues in contemporary politics.  These will include looking at issues such as gender, democracy, poverty, climate change, human rights, torture, migration, and modern slavery.  For example, you will be considering questions such as what, if anything, are we required to do to mitigate against climate change?  Who is responsible for this mitigation?  What sort of democratic institutions should we have? How much should we be doing to combat poverty in the world?  Is torture ever permissible? What are human rights? This part of the module will consider these and other big questions in relation to how we should conduct politics.

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Recommended Reading List

  1. Goodin, Robert E., and Pettit, Philip editors. Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Anthology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006.
  2. Kymlicka, Will. Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  3. Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic Books, 1974.
  4. Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Rev. Ed. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1999.

For the second half of the module the following two anthologies will be particularly useful-

  1. Pogge, Thomas and Moellendorf, Darrel editors. Global Justice: Seminal Essays. St. Paul: Paragon House, 2008.
  2. Pogge, Thomas, Horton, Keith editors. Global Ethics: Seminal Essays. St. Paul: Paragon House, 2008.

The remainder of the readings will be journal articles available online through the usual sources (JSTOR, etc.). Please make sure you are able to access these articles. If you don’t know how to do it, the library holds workshops and the like to show you how. It is your responsibility to make sure you are able to access all module readings.

Assessment Details

Students will be assessed in two ways.  Firstly on the basis of 2 essays of 2,000 words, one from each term, worth 20% each.  Finally by a final exam worth 60% of the overall grade.

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