GV4A3      Half Unit
Social Choice Theory and Democracy

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Joseph Mazor


This course is available on the MSc in Applicable Mathematics, MSc in Political Science and Political Economy, MSc in Political Theory, MSc in Political Theory (Research) and MSc in Public Administration and Government (LSE and Peking University). This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.


No prior knowledge of social choice theory or of any specific mathematical discipline is required.

Course content

This course provides an introduction to the current debates in democratic theory. The course also the introduces students to key social choice theorems, such as Arrow's Impossibility Theorem and the Gibbard-Satterthwaite Theorem, which imply that making rational collective decisions may be difficult or impossible.  Responses to these theorems from the normative democratic theory literature are explored.  The course covers central debates in contemporary democratic theory, including deliberative versus aggregative democracy, procedural versus outcome-based or epistemic justifications of democracy, the problem of democractic citizenship, and the foundations of democratic legitimacy. While all students are required to understand the key social choice theorems introduced in the course, the focus will be on the implications of these theorems for normative democratic theory rather than their mathematical details.


20 hours of seminars in the LT. 4 hours of seminars in the ST.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to give a short presentation and to write a formative essay. Feedback will be given on this material, but it does not count towards final assessment.

Indicative reading

John Stuart Mill (1861) Considerations on Representative Government; David Estlund (2008) Democratic Authority; S Kelly (1988), Social Choice Theory: An Introduction; Amy Gutmann & Dennis Thompson (1996) Democracy and Disagreement; Christian List, “The Discursive Dilemma and Public Reason”, Ethics 116(2): 362-404 (2006).


Exam (67%, duration: 2 hours) in the main exam period.
Essay (33%, 2500 words) in the LT.

Consists of two parts: (i) a two-hour unseen written examination in the ST, accounting for 66.67% of the marks; (ii) a single essay of up to 2,500 words on a topic assigned by the course teacher or agreed with the course teacher by Week 10 of LT.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2012/13: 7

Average class size 2012/13: 7

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication