Introduction to Political Theory

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Paul Kelly


This course is compulsory on the BSc in International Social and Public Policy with Politics, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics, BSc in Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics and History, BSc in Politics and International Relations, BSc in Politics and Philosophy and BSc in Social Policy with Government. This course is available on the BA in Social Anthropology, BSc in Environment and Development, BSc in Social Anthropology 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 political theory through the thought and texts of some of the most important 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 basis of political obligation, the idea of social contract, the idea of social progress, the critique of capitalism, and questions about race and gender. The thinkers discussed this year will include Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, The Federalist, J S Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, Arendt, Fanon.


This course provides a combination of classes and lectures totalling no less than 29 hours in the Michaelmas term, and no less than 30 hours in the Lent term. This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of online and on-campus lectures and classes. There will be a reading week in Week 6 of both Michaelmas and Lent terms.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

Indicative reading

D. Boucher and P. Kelly, Political Thinkers: From Socrates to the Present (Oxford 2017); Plato, Republic; Aristotle, Politics; Machiavelli, The Prince; Hobbes, Leviathan; Locke, 2nd Treatise of Government; Rousseau, Discourse on the Origins of Inequality and The Social Contract; Kant, Perpetual Peace; The Federalist Papers; J S Mill, Utilitarianism, The Subjection of Women, and On Liberty; Marx, Selected Writings (Ed D McLellan); Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morality: Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism; Fanon, Black Skins, White Masks.


Essay (33%, 2000 words) in the MT.
Essay (33%, 2000 words) and essay (34%, 2000 words) in the LT.

The summative assessment will be 3 essays for whole course. Effectively this means 1 summative assessment in MT and 2 for LT. However, in the event of the first, formative MT essay being 'best', students will be allowed to count that as one of their summative essays (so the best 3 out of 4 essays will form the summative assessment for this course).



The Class Summary Grade for General Course students will be calculated as follows: 80% class participation and 20% attendance.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Student performance results

(2018/19 - 2020/21 combined)

Classification % of students
First 7
2:1 76.4
2:2 15.3
Third 0.2
Fail 1.1

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 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 differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching 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 2020/21: 285

Average class size 2020/21: 13

Capped 2020/21: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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