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Normative Analysis (PO9A4)

Normative issues - questions of right and wrong, of just and injust, of good and bad - often arise in, indeed often motivate, 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? Taught by a team drawn from three Departments - Politics and International Studies, Law, and Philosophy - this interdisciplinary survey course provides an advanced and wide-ranging introduction to the main theoretical perspectives and substantive topics.

Programme content

The module begins with a comprehensive survey of key approaches to normative theory. We look at impartial consequentialism (should we aim simply to maximize the good?); deontology (are there rights and duties that constrain the pursuit of the good?); contractualism (is it helpful to think about the social arrangements people would have agreed to?); and contractarianism (what is the relation between morality and the coordinated pursuit of individual self-interest?). We also normally consider methodological issues such as the relationship between normative principles and empirical facts, the action-guiding role of ideal theory, the idea that we assess normative claims by a process of reflective equilibrium, and the philosophical relevance of studying the history of political thought.

The second term typically looks at a range of more specific conceptual and substantive issues such as the nature of legitimacy and authority, the value of democracy and the importance of dignity within political morality. We also explore some of the key questions that arise in the study of social justice: the justice of the market and the relation between gender and justice and the normative questions that arise in the context of punishment and criminalization.

This module is compulsory for students taking our MA in Legal and Political Theory. It is also available as an option to students on other MA programmes. It 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.