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Issues in Political Theory (PO301)

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 is divided into two main parts. During the first term, we shall look at various theories and concepts. We will begin by examining John Rawls’s theory of justice. It is no exaggeration to say that Rawls’s A Theory of Justice is the most important work of political philosophy in 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. We’ll also explore some rival theories of justice that have emerged as a result of reflecting upon Rawls’s theory and the challenges it faces. In particular we will examine the theories of Robert Nozick, G. A. Cohen, and Ronald Dworkin.

During the second term, we will focus instead 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:

Mathew Coakley

Sample reading list (PDF Document)


This module is worth 30 CATS