Undergraduate Modules

History of Western Political Thought

This module examines the perianal questions of about human existence and political organisation: Are humans naturally good or bad? How are humans naturally political animals? Why do we need politics? What should the aim(s) of politics be? What is the relationship between politics and morality? Who should rule and what legitimates their rule? Why should we obey the law? Are there limits to what government can legitimately do to its citizens? What rights do citizens have if the government exceeds these limits?

We explore different responses to these questions by critically engaging with a selection of key texts in the history of Western political thought, drawing upon the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Marcus Tullius Cicero, Aurelius Augustine of Hippo, Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Jeremy Bentham and, Karl Marx. In doing so, one key examination will involve understanding how the aforementioned theorists conceptualised human nature and how their basic assumptions about human nature led to radically different ideas about what politics is for, how it should be organised, and what it should / can ultimately deliver to improve the human condition.

Through a detailed study of seminal texts in the history of political theory, students will not only gain an appreciation of some of the historically most influential and important philosophical responses to these questions, but also develop a comprehensive understanding of various key political concepts that they can then apply to the analysis of contemporary issues throughout their degree.

Topics covered on this module:

  1. Introduction: Why Political Theory is the most Important Subject.
  2. Plato: Human Nature and the Just Polis
  3. Aristotle: Political Animals and the Role of Community
  4. Cicero: Humanism and the Rule of Law
  5. Augustine: Inherited Sin and the Imperfection of Politics
  6. Machiavelli: Humanness and the Craft of Political Order
  7. Hobbes: The State of Nature and the Need for a Sovereign
  8. Locke: Natural Law, Consent and Revolution
  9. Rousseau: The Origins of Inequality and the Politics of Autonomy
  10. Bentham: Rationality and Utility Politics
  11. Marx: Emancipation and Revolution

Module Code: POL 110

First Year, Autumn Semester

Teaching Methods:

  • 11 one-hour lectures
  • 11 one-hour seminars

Assessment:

  • One 2,000-word essay (50%)
  • One examination (50%)