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This subject investigates central topics in political philosophy. These can be divided into two areas of focus - political legitimacy and distributive justice. The study of legitimacy aims to establish the moral authority of the coercive state. This involves finding ways to answer the anarchist contention that no state can be justified, by developing a moral foundation for the state's authority. The study of distributive justice aims to answer questions about how the state should actually use its coercive powers to regulate the way in which its citizens interact. The focus here is on interpreting various (often competing) political values, such as equality, individual freedom and community.
This subject will make extensive use of historical and contemporary writings. Authors who feature predominantly in this subject include Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, and John Rawls. This will be followed by time spent on contemporary authors.
Intended learning outcomes
Students who successfully complete this subject will:
- gain a familiarity with a range of core texts in the history of political thought, and be able to both interpret and evaluate their main arguments;
- be able to understand the relevance of a range of key concepts to political argument, including (but not limited to) the concepts of coercion, consent, freedom, oppression, ownership, and equality;
- become more able to defend, and not just coherently state, one's own position with regard to controversial questions in political philosophy;
- gain an understanding of ways in which topics in political philosophy overlap with the subject matter of other academic disciplines, such as law and the social sciences;
- work individually, and in groups, to clarify problems, apply reasoning techniques to different issues, and to critically evaluate the results.
Last updated: 1 June 2020