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Issues in Political Theory

Programme overview

This is primarily a course in normative political theory. That is, it asks how agents – citizens or states - ought to act, not merely how they do in fact behave. It is not merely explanatory, interpretative or clarificatory. It aims to provide answers to fundamental questions of political morality.

Programme content

The module begins by considering the work of three major political theorists: John Rawls, Robert Nozick, and Ronald Dworkin. It is no exaggeration to say that Rawls’s A Theory of Justice is the most important work of political philosophy of the 20th century.

Almost everyone writing on political philosophy today feels the need to situate their work in relation to Rawls’s work, even when they disagree with it. Following Rawls, we will look at the work of Nozick and Dworkin, whose rival theories of justice emerged as a result of reflecting upon Rawls’s theory and the challenges it faces.

We then move on from individual thinkers to focus on issues. We will focus on various specific questions, such as the following: Should parents send their children to private schools if they can afford to do so? Does justice require that parents distribute childcare equally between them? Is there a moral right of free movement across the globe? Is it unjust to rear and kill animals for food? Who should bear the costs of coping with climate change?

Module Director:

Ed Page