Key Themes in the History of Political Thought

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Katrin Flikschuh


This course is available on the BA in Social Anthropology, BSc in History and Politics, BSc in International Social and Public Policy with Politics, BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics, BSc in Politics and Data Science, BSc in Politics and Economics, BSc in Politics and History, BSc in Politics and International Relations, BSc in Politics and Philosophy, BSc in Social Anthropology and BSc in Social Policy with Government. This course is not available as an outside option. This course is available with permission to General Course students.

This course is capped at one group.


Students will normally be expected to have taken GV100, ‘Introduction to Political Theory’, or equivalent in a previous year.

Course content

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 analyse and interpret in some depth a selected sub-set of thinkers and topics in order to explore continuities and discontinuities in ethical and political problems and their solutions over time and changing contexts.

Examples of possible themes include: 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; the sources of public authority and the nature of legitimate sovereignty; the historical and socio-political presuppositions behind the different constitutional regimes: democracy, monarchy, republic; the role of religion in politics; changing perspectives on the relationship between life in the family and a life of active citizenship; theories of natural law and natural rights; social contract theories; 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. This year, we will focus on debates over the relation between reason, morality, and political authority in the works of Aristotle, Hobbes, Kant, and JS Mill. More specifically, we shall consider how these different thinkers’ underlying conceptions of practical reasoning informed their views on personhood and citizenship. Throughout, we shall consider these thinkers’ abiding influence on contemporary views about the relation between reason, morality, and politics.


This course provides a combination of seminars and lectures totalling a minimum of 42 hours across the Michaelmas, Lent and Summer terms. There will be a reading week in Week 6 of the Michaelmas and Lent terms.

Formative coursework

There will be 2 formative assignments over the year, with an essay of up to 1,500 words due & returned in the MT, and a second essay of up to 1,500 words due towards the end of the LT.

Indicative reading

Primary Sources: Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics; Aristotle, The Politics; Hobbes, Leviathan; Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals; JS Mill, On Liberty, JS Mill, Utilitarianism.


Essay (50%, 2500 words) in the LT.
Essay (50%, 2500 words) in the ST.

Student performance results

(2019/20 - 2021/22 combined)

Classification % of students
First 53.2
2:1 44.2
2:2 2.6
Third 0
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: Government

Total students 2021/22: 17

Average class size 2021/22: 17

Capped 2021/22: Yes (15)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

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.

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills