Introduction to Political Theory

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Chandran Kukathas CON5.04


This course is compulsory on the BSc in Government, BSc in Government and Economics, BSc in Government and History, BSc in Politics and Philosophy and BSc in Social Policy with Government. This course is available on the BSc in Environment and Development, BSc in Environmental Policy, BSc in Human Resource Management and Employment Relations, BSc in International Relations and BSc in Social Policy. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

An introduction to the study of politics and political theory through the thought and texts of some of the most important western political theorists. A study of the ideas of some of the major political theorists from the ancient Greeks to the 20th Century. Topics will include theories of human nature, the origin of government and law, man's relation to society and the state, the rise, development and comparison of different constitutions (democracy, monarchy, republic etc), the nature of just and unjust government, the relation between the spiritual and the secular in thinkers, classical and modern natural law and natural rights, the basis of political obligation, the idea of social contract and the theory of utility. The thinkers discussed include Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, Vitoria, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Rousseau, Wollestonecraft, J S Mill, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Foucault, Hayek, and Rawls.


20 hours of lectures and 9 hours of classes in the MT. 20 hours of lectures and 10 hours of classes in the LT. 2 hours of lectures and 2 hours of classes in the ST.

Formative coursework

Students are required to write two 1500 word essays in the Michaelmas Term and two 1500 word essays in the Lent Term. Specific reading lists referring to modern commentaries and historical contexts will be available on the Moodle page at the beginning of the course.  

Indicative reading

D. Boucher and P. Kelly, Political Thinkers: From Socrates to the Present (Oxford 2009). See also Plato, Republic, Aristotle, Politics, Vitoria, Political Writings, Machiavelli, The Prince, Hobbes, Leviathan,  Locke, 2nd Treatise of Government, Rousseau, Discourse on the Origins of Inequality and The Social Contract,  Mary Wollestonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Woman, J S Mill, Utilitarianism, The Subjection of Women, and On Liberty,  Hegel, The Philosophy of Right, Marx, Selected Writings (Ed D McLellan); Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty.


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.

Candidates will be expected to answer four questions from a total of sixteen.

Student performance results

(2010/11 - 2012/13 combined)

Classification % of students
First 8.1
2:1 61.1
2:2 26.9
Third 2.4
Fail 1.5

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2012/13: 188

Average class size 2012/13: 14

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication

Course survey results

(2010/11 - 2012/13 combined)

1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 80.3%



Reading list (Q2.1)


Materials (Q2.3)


Course satisfied (Q2.4)


Lectures (Q2.5)


Integration (Q2.6)


Contact (Q2.7)


Feedback (Q2.8)


Recommend (Q2.9)