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Introduction to Political Philosophy




Admission Requirements



This introductory political philosophy course is designed to help you become more critical political thinker and a more reflective political actor by addressing some of the most fundamental questions about politics. Drawing from a wide array of theoretical sources of political significance this course encourages us to engage and evaluate the assigned readings as political interventions: as texts that have grappled with and changed the terms of the debate at the time of their writing, and that can help us understand, re-think, and re-articulate the terms of our contemporary political debates. Thus, as we develop own interpretations and critical assessments of these works, we shall also be aiming to seek meaningful connections to the questions and problems that challenge our current political landscape. By inquiring into and contextualising our own political views and values, we can hope to become more reflective and conversant citizens.

Course Objectives

The more preparation, thought, and energy you put into the course, the more everyone will get out of it. That said, you should complete the course with at least the following achievements.

  • Understanding of some central themes, concepts, and traditions in political philosophy;

  • Appreciation of the range and diversity of the sources of political philosophy;

  • A capacity to use philosophical reflection on political issues;

  • Further ability to critically read and engage with difficult texts.

Mode of Instruction



Class participation – 20%

Discussion is key to intellectual and social progress. To spark constructive conversation in seminar, every student is expected to arrive at class having read the assigned texts and prepared to discuss the readings critically, imaginatively, and insightfully. Your participation grade will take into account the comments you offer, the questions you pose, and the responses you give to others’ questions and comments. Do bear in mind that quantity does not substitute for quality. Do also understand that the quality of discussion is not based on winning an argument, but on how fully your participation demonstrates active engagement with the texts and topics raised in seminar.

Response papers – 20% [20/10=2]

Designed as a regular thinking and writing exercise to inform and complement our seminar discussions, a short paper (no more than one single-spaced page in length) is due at 09:00 before each class from Weeks 2 – 6. You are therefore required to submit ten response papers in total as part of your course portfolio; do note that you may only turn in one paper per class and that tardy papers will not be accepted. Papers are to be submitted via blackboard as word documents, and I shall return them to you with my feedback via e-mail in timely fashion.

You should respond to at least two of the readings assigned per session and identify the texts you have selected to address at the top of each paper. Otherwise, the form and content of these papers are up to you. For more difficult readings, you may do well to paraphrase what you understand to be an author’s main thesis. For others, you may wish to formulate an initial criticism or offer a comparison with other texts. Alternatively, you may choose to relate the readings to contemporary issues in the news or elsewhere.

Group presentation – 20%

Group presentations will take place during Week 7, for which you will be divided into groups earlier in the term. Group membership and topic will be determined by lot in the first instance, after which trading can take place if desired. Each group will be responsible for one of the ideologies to be covered that week—each presentation should last 20 – 25 minutes, including time allotted to lead seminar discussion of the topic at hand. The precise structure of each presentation is up to each group. Do ensure that your group completes all of the assigned reading for your topic, do meet to discuss the texts and plan a strategy for presenting them, and do feel free to schedule an appointment with me to sound out your preliminary ideas.

Final essay – 40%

Your individual scrutiny of texts and our seminar discussions will yield essay-worthy inquiries, and your final essay is the perfect forum to pursue a topic of your own devising which relates to the course. All topics must be approved by me; a provisional essay title and a one-paragraph essay proposal should therefore reach me via e-mail by 09:00 on the Monday of Week 7. Final essays should be double-spaced, 2500 – 3000 words in length exclusive of footnotes and bibliography, and submitted via blackboard as a word document by 09:00 on the Thursday of Week 8. Do beware that final essays turned in without a pre-approved proposal will not be accepted, and that late submissions will not be entertained unless accompanied by reasons I find compelling.

Your final essay should begin with an express statement of the question you intend to explore. In the process of this exploration, you should articulate: (i) why you think your question is important; (ii) what general issues you are trying to address in posing this question; (iii) which texts and theories you will use in answering your question; (iv) how your question enables you to draw together some of the central themes of the course, considered as a whole; and (v) in what sense your argument and conclusion have specifically political import. I shall look for evidence of your ability to: write persuasive and elegant prose; organise your thoughts coherently; develop sophisticated arguments; and anticipate as well as respond to criticisms of your arguments. I shall judge your essay in accordance with: whether you answered your question in a way that indicates critical engagement with the themes of the course; the complexity of your understanding of the concepts and contentions in the relevant texts; and the quality of your argument in relation to the question raised.

Two caveats:
1) Plagiarism and academic dishonesty will not be tolerated under any circumstances. Instances of academic misconduct will be referred to the Examination Committee and will entail immediate suspension from this course. All articles of the Honour Code and Academic Rules & Regulations as specified in LUC Student Handbook 2011-2012 apply.
2) Late submission of work without valid reason will be penalized.



Contact Information


Weekly Overview

Week 1: Origins and Foundations of Political Philosophy
Week 2: Power and Authority (Response papers x 2)
Week 3: Political Obligation and Civil Disobedience (Response papers x 2)
Week 4: Freedom and Liberty (Response papers x 2)
Week 5: Equality and Diversity (Response papers x 2)
Week 6: Democracy and Citizenship (Response papers x 2)
Week 7: Exploring Ideologies (Group presentation x 1)
Week 8: (Final essay x 1)

Preparation for first session