GV4F5      Half Unit
Advanced Study of Key Political Thinkers

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Signy Gutnick Allen


This course is available on the MSc in Political Theory. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course is capped at 1 group.

The deadline for applications is 17:00 on Tuesday 29 September 2020. You will be informed of the outcome by 17:00 on Wednesday 30 September 2020.


An advanced undergraduate course in the History of Political Thought or Political Philosophy, or following consultation with the course teacher.

Course content

This course provides an opportunity to study the work of Thomas Hobbes in-depth. It will focus on his major works, with an emphasis on themes in his political theory: authorisation and the state, free will, the nature of the law, political resistance, the international sphere, and the relationship between civil and religious authority. We will situate Hobbes’s arguments in their political and theoretical context, as well as exploring both how subsequent theorists understood and employed his ideas, and the major contemporary critical debates in Hobbes scholarship. The seminar will therefore blend intellectual history and political theory. In our final seminars, we will consider how a trio of controversial twentieth-century thinkers (Carl Schmitt, Hannah Arendt and Giorgio Agamben) responded to Hobbes’s theory of political sovereignty.


This course is delivered through seminars totalling a minimum of 20 hours in the Lent Term. Some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of online and on-campus seminars. There will be a reading week in week 6 of the LT for private study and assessment preparation.

Formative coursework

Students will be encouraged to submit one formative extended essay plan of no more than 1500 words. This will form the basis of the final summative assessment. The course leader will provide written feedback on this plan, and provide the opportunity for a one-to-one meeting to discuss the plan, but will not provide a numerical grade or classification for it. 

Indicative reading

Hobbes, T., The Elements of Law; Hobbes, T.,  Leviathan; Hobbes, T.,  De Cive; Hobbes, T., A Dialogue Between a Philosopher and a Student of the Common Laws of England; Hobbes, T. Writings on Liberty and Necessity; Schmitt, C. The Concept of the Political; Arendt, H., The Origins of Totalitarianism; Agamben, G. Homer Sacer

Students will also be asked to prepare short written summaries of relevant secondary literature of their choice. Examples could include: Hoekstra, K. (2012). Hobbesian Equality. In S. Lloyd (Ed.), Hobbes Today: Insights for the 21st Century (pp. 76-112). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; ABIZADEH, ARASH. “Hobbes on the Causes of War: A Disagreement Theory.” The American Political Science Review, vol. 105, no. 2, 2011, pp. 298–315; Baumgold, D. (2009). Hobbesian Absolutism and the Paradox of Modern Contractarianism. European Journal of Political Theory, 8(2), 207–228; Pettit, P. (2005). Liberty and Leviathan. Politics, Philosophy & Economics, 4(1), 131–151; Ristroph, Alice. “Respect and Resistance in Punishment Theory.” California Law Review, vol. 97, no. 2, 2009, pp. 601–632.


Essay (90%, 4000 words) and class participation (10%).

In addition to the 4,000-word summative essay and 1,500 word formative essay plan, you will also be expected to produce a series of eight reading summaries. These summaries, which should be a minimum of one paragraph, will cover a relevant piece of secondary literature of your choice. This may be taken from the weekly 'Further Reading' list on Moodle, or it can be something you find independently. If you have questions about what counts as an appropriate or relevant piece of work, please get in touch.

The essay would be with 90% of the final mark. The final 10% would be distributed as follows:

Summaries will not be graded individually. Instead, students will receive 10/10 for a minimum of 7/8 summaries, 5/10 for a partial completion of 4/8 summaries, and 0/10 for anything less than this.

Student performance results

(2016/17 - 2018/19 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 27.8
Merit 57.4
Pass 14.8
Fail 0

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2019/20: 14

Average class size 2019/20: 14

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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