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PO301: Issues in Political Theory (40 CATS)

The year long third-year module is a core element of a number of degree programmes, including Politics and International Studies. The aim of the module is to foster a detailed critical understanding of a range of arguments in contemporary political philosophy, and the ability to criticise, evaluate, and apply these arguments. The module is divided into four parts:

  1. Contemporary theories and principles of justice (including the work of John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Ronald Dworkin, Elizabeth Anderson, Susan Moller Okin; theories of equality and distributive justice);
  2. Issues of justice relating to the organisation of the basic structure of society and social institutions (gender and justice; freedom and equality; cultural diversity; democracy and legitimacy)
  3. Contemporary social, and political issues in normative political theory (immigration, education and upbringing, homelessness and housing, unjust enrichment, resisting injustice)
  4. 'Extensions' of justice (non-human animals, future generations, climate change).

The aims of the module are threefold:

  • To foster a detailed critical understanding of a range of arguments central to contemporary analytical political philosophy.
  • To foster the ability to analyse and assess opposing arguments in political philosophy.
  • To foster appreciation of the relevance of arguments in political philosophy to contemporary political and social issues and the ability to apply arguments in political philosophy to a range of such issues.

PO9A4 Normative Analysis (40 CATS)

Normative debates are central to the study of social, legal and political institutions and policy. How should those institutions be arranged? By what moral criteria should we assess policy options? How should we act as individuals, citizens, politicians or judges? This co-taught postgraduate interdisciplinary module provides an advanced and wide-ranging introduction to the main theoretical perspectives and substantive topics. In the first term, we study key approaches to normative theory such as consequentialism (should we aim simply to maximize the good?) and deontology (are there rights and duties that constrain the pursuit of the good? what is the normative significance of intentions?). We also consider the idea that we assess normative claims by the major theoretical approaches to social justice. In the second term, we explore a range of more specific conceptual and substantive issues such as the relation between democracy, justice and legitimacy, and the justification of human rights, of punishment, and of criminalization. While module is compulsory for students taking our MA in Legal and Political Theory, it is also available as an option and will be of particular interest to those who find themselves wanting to understand the moral aspects of the social, economic, political and legal phenomena they are studying.

PO-21040 Loss and Damage (20 CATS) [from 2024-25]

Climate change losses and damages are the negative effects of global climate change that remain after measures of mitigation and adaptation have been attempted. As we learn more about the limits of policies of mitigation and adaptation, especially the residual damage they will leave for vulnerable populations, questions of loss & damage have become an increasing focus of concern for policymakers, activists, and climate change scholars. What are the main types of loss and damage? Is there a useful distinction to be made between ‘loss’ and ‘damage’? How might policies designed to lessen adverse climate changes (such as early warning systems, insurance schemes, and compensation mechanisms) limit losses & damages? According to what ethical principles should the financial and other burdens associated with addressing loss and damage be distributed? In this taught postgraduate module, we address these questions from both a normative and a policy perspective, studying what philosophers, climate change scientists, activists, and policymakers have argued about these issues.

PO921: Explanations in Social Science (20 CATS) [archived module]

This module explores philosophical and methodological arguments relevant to research in the social and political sciences, focusing on the nature and role of explanation. The module draws upon materials from various disciplines, including philosophy, politics, economics, psychology, anthropology and sociology. Special attention is given to research that draws together arguments from different social science disciplines. Topical debates (such as global inequality, gender inequality, evolutionary explanation, and suicide missions) are used to illustrate competing modes of explanation; and attention is given to both well-established debates and recent controversies in the philosophy of social science. Topics covered include: causal explanation vs. interpretation; functional explanation; rationalism and empiricism; pragmatism and paradigms; rational choice theory; international and environmental applications of game theory; pseudo-scientific explanations; and the role of evolutionary explanation in social and political science. The core text used for the course is Martin Hollis's The Philosophy of Social Science (Colorado: Westview, 1994).