GV4A3      Half Unit
Social Choice Theory and Democracy

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Joseph Mazor


This course is available on the MSc in Applicable Mathematics, MSc in Political Science and Political Economy and MSc in Political Theory. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.


No prior knowledge of political theory, 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 introduces students to key social choice theorems, such as Arrow's Impossibility Theorem.  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, the plausibility of epistemic justifications for democracy, the problems of democratic citizenship, and the threat of tyranny of the majority. 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. 2 hours of seminars in the ST.

There will be a reading week in week 6 of the LT for private study and assessment preparation.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to write a formative essay. Feedback will be given on this essay, but it does not count towards final assessment.  Students will also have the option to submit an outline for the assessed essay for comments.  The outline itself will not be assessed.

Indicative reading

Sen, Amartya (1998) “The Possibility of Social Choice”, Nobel Lecture; Riker, William H. (1982/2003) “Social Choice Theory and Constitutional Democracy”, Chapter 7; Cohen, Joshua (1986) “An Epistemic Conception of Democracy,” Ethics, 97(1) 26-38; Amy Gutmann & Dennis Thompson (1996) Democracy and Disagreement; Christian List (2006), “The Discursive Dilemma and Public Reason”, Ethics 116(2): 362-404


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

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2014/15: 6

Average class size 2014/15: 6

Controlled access 2014/15: No

Lecture capture used 2014/15: Yes (LT)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication