Key Themes in the History of Political Thought

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Lea Ypi


This course is available 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 as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.


Students will normally be expected to have taken Introduction to Political Theory or equivalent, in a previous year.

Course content

A thematic study of political thought in Ancient, Medieval/Renaissance and Modern periods. This advanced course treats some of the major themes in the history of western European political thought as drawn from the writings of selected political philosophers of the ancient Greek, Roman, medieval, renaissance, early modern and modern periods. The aim is to demonstrate, and explain, some of the continuities and discontinuities in ethical and political problems and their solutions over time and changing context.

Examples of such themes: different views on the nature of "man" and the consequences for political agency of different perspectives on human reason, will, desire; debates on the origins of law and the purpose of legislation; changing conceptions of justice; different views on government and the state's relation to the individual; on the sources of public authority and the nature of legitimate sovereignty; on the relation of property ownership to personal identity and to participation in collective governance; the historical and socio-political presuppositions behind the different constitutional regimes: democracy, monarchy, republic etc; on the role of religion in politics; the changing perspectives on the relationship between life in the family and a life of active citizenship; theories of natural law and natural rights; contractarianism; idealist political theory; utilitarianism; nationalism; liberal, conservative and socialist traditions of thought; anarchism and feminism.

The themes, thinkers and primary texts will be selected each year to reflect the current debates in contemporary scholarly literature on them and the research interests of the lecturer.

The key theme for 2013-14 is Human nature and political authority in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Marx. A specific and dedicated reading list will be on Public Folders and distributed at the beginning of the year.


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

Indicative reading

Jonathan Israel, Enlightenment Contested and Radical Enlightenment.

Primary Sources: A selection of the following (this list should not be taken as exhaustive): Plato, Republic; Aristotle, Politics, Machiavelli, Discourses, Hobbes, Leviathan, Locke, Second Treatise on Civil Government, Rousseau, The Social Contract, Marx, The German Ideology.


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

Four questions will be answered.

Student performance results

(2010/11 - 2012/13 combined)

Classification % of students
First 31.7
2:1 58.5
2:2 9.8
Third 0
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2012/13: 24

Average class size 2012/13: 13

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Problem solving
  • Communication