nl en

Philosophy of Political Science: Selected Topics


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to students enrolled in the MA Philosophy 120 EC, specialisation Philosophy of Political Science. This specialist course is mandatory for above mentioned students.


This course addresses the question: ‘What is involved in philosophising about politics?’ By looking both at classical and at contemporary sources, it examines different modes of philosophising about politics, from the ancient world to the present day. Rather than reconstructing theories in their entirety, it will elicit the view of politics as a human activity that is implicit in a range of philosophical works, as well as the (implicit or explicit) meta-philosophical characterisation of the views themselves.

The topics explored during the course will include: the nature of politics itself; how philosophers have imaged or imagined politics in their writings; generic differences between styles of philosophising about politics, notably (but not only) between analytical and continental styles of philosophising; methodologies appropriate to philosophising about politics, including the interpretation of texts; whether philosophising about politics is necessarily normative rather than purely descriptive, and whether this distinction itself is credible; why ‘political philosophy’ so often does not take the form (as it does, for instance, with the philosophy of mathematics or natural science) of a philosophical description of politics; whether philosophising about politics is itself a political act; whether it is possible even in principle to produce a philosophically credible characterisation of politics.

Course objectives

Skills imparted will include the ability to survey relevant literature and make a selection from it via independent research, based on a clearly formulated initial research question. Students will be expected both to arrive at such a question through independent inquiry and to identify sources relevant to it. They will also learn how to distinguish between exposition of text and critical analysis not just of its substantive content but its philosophical and other methodological underpinnings.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • philosophical and meta-philosophical issues concerning politics;

  • concepts relating to the philosophical characterisation of politics, notably including normativity and descriptivity, first- vs. higher-order philosophical argument, distinct philosophical methodologies, truth vs. assertibility as rival standards of philosophical adequacy, reflexivity as a feature and possible weakness of philosophical theorising;

  • the specifically political content of a range of canonical texts.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • read and interrogate texts in the historical of political philosophy and political thought for their specifically political content;

  • understand the philosophical stakes in a specific characterisation of politics, in historical and contemporary theories;

  • elaborate a philosophical understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of specific characterisations of politics;

  • expose and appraise the differences between different philosophical approaches to politics, including their strengths and weaknesses;

  • make steps towards characterising politics themselves both at a first-order level and via an understanding of what, philosophically, is presupposed by such a characterisation.


The timetable is available on the MA Philosophy website
MA Philosophy 120 EC

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load: 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Attending seminars (3 hours x 14 weeks): 42 hours

  • Preparation of classes: 72 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 52 hours

  • Completing assignments (presentation and essays): 114 hours

Assessment method

  • Assessed mid-term essay, 2000 words (40%)

  • Assessed final essay, 2000 words (40%)

  • Class presentation: 20%

Attendance and class participation is a mandatory requirement for taking the tests or resit.


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (mid-term essay, final essay, presentation). A subtest can be graded as unsatisfactory.


One resit will be offered, covering the entire course content and consisting of a paper. The grade will replace previously earned grades for subtests. Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination(s) cannot take the resit.


Blackboard will be used:

  • to communicate any organisational information;

  • to post readings for upcoming seminars;

  • to notify students of any changes to the published schedule

  • to post links relevant to the course.

Reading list

A syllabus will be made available through Blackboard. Texts will include:

  • Plato, Republic;

  • Aristotle, Politics,

  • Augustine, City of God;

  • Machiavelli, Discourses;

  • Hobbes, Leviathan;

  • Rousseau, Social Contract;

  • Madison, Hamilton & Jay, The Federalist;

  • Marx, ‘On the Jewish Question’;

  • Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism;

  • Rawls, Political Liberalism.


Enrolment for courses and exams through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetables for and exams in the column under the heading “uSis-Actnbr”.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof.dr. G.F. Newey


Not applicable.