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Political Philosophy: An Introduction

This online course introduces the student to classic and contemporary texts in the context of approaching some central questions in political philosophy concerning, the state, democracy, liberty and justice.
University of Oxford University Offices Wellington Square Oxford ,OX1 2JD United Kingdom
(4418) 65270000

Course at a Glance

Mode of learning : Online - Instructor Lead(LVC)

Domain / Subject : General/Others

Function : General

Trainer name : Dr Mary-Ann Crumplin

Starts on : 17th Sep 2014

Duration : 10 Weeks

Difficulty : Advanced

About the course

Political philosophy contains some of the greatest writings in the western intellectual tradition, as well as highly stimulating contemporary contributions. This online course introduces students to classic and contemporary texts in the context of approaching some central questions in political philosophy. It will provide an introduction to political philosophy by examining the justification of the state, problems democracy, liberty, justice, and feminist theory. 

Students will be guided through the thought of various classical and contemporary thinkers in both primary and secondary readings, and are encouraged to think for themselves about the problems addressed. They will engage in various optional activities to stimulate personal reflection, and will contribute to group discussion designed to create a supportive online community with the common task of acquiring an understanding. By the end of the course students should feel confident of their own position on some of the debates studied.

Course aims

This course aims to introduce students to political philosophy especially in the western liberal tradition by:

  • guiding them through a number of classical and contemporary readings;
  • helping them to think for themselves about these important but difficult issues.

Course Objectives

This course will:

  • introduce students to philosophical thinking;
  • guide students` reading through a number of classical and contemporary readings;
  • help students understand the main problems in political philosophy including the authority of the state, the justification of democracy, the place of liberty, the distribution of property, and feminist theory;
  • familiarise students with the key arguments for and against the main positions in the main debates in political philosophy;
  • enable students to think for themselves about the issues involved in political philosophy

Assessment methods

Assessment for this course is based on two written assignments - one short assignment due half way through the course and one longer assignment due at the end of the course. Students will have about two weeks to complete each assignment.

Teaching methods

  • Guided reading of texts
  • Group discussions of particular issues
  • Questions to be answered in personal folders
  • Debating from positions given rather than from personal belief (to hone skills of debate)

Teaching outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to understand:

  • some main problems of political philosophy, including including the authority of the state, the justification of democracy, the place of liberty, the distribution of property, and feminist theory. 
  • the main arguments for and against the various positions in these debates
  • their own position on some of these problems

By the end of this course students will be expected to have gained the following skills:

  • the ability to think philosophically
  • the ability to describe the main arguments for and against the main positions in the some main debates in political philosophy
  • the ability constructively to criticise the arguments of philosophers
  • the ability to explicate their own views in political philosophy

Course eligibility

Course Requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.

Recommended reading

To participate in the course you will need to have regular access to the Internet and you will need to buy the following texts:

  • Wolff, J., An Introduction to Political Philosophy (OUP, Oxford, 2006)
  • Rosen, M., and Wolff, J. (eds), Political Thought (OUP, Oxford, 1999) 
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Course Content

The areas you will cover in this course are, Units:

  • What is political philosophy? The descriptive and the normative. Improving the status quo.
  • The State of Nature: Hobbes on the State of Nature, Anarchism
  • Justifying the State: The Social Contract, The Principle of Fairness, Utilitarianism
  • Who Should Rule?: Plato Against Democracy, Participatory Democracy, The ‘Jury Theorem’ Argument, Representative Democracy
  • The Place of Liberty: The Harm Principle, Mill and Indecency
  • The Distribution of Property: Locke and ‘Labour-Mixing’, Libertarianism and Property, Rawls’ Theory of Justice, The Free Market
  • • Individualism, Justice, Feminism: Liberal Feminism, Justice and Care

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