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Introduction to key thinkers and theories in political philosophy

Module details

  • Offered to 2nd Years
  • Mondays 16.00-18.00
  • South Kensington Campus
  • 2-term module worth 5 ECTS
  • Available to eligible students as part of I-Explore
  • Extra Credit or Degree Credit where your department allows
Degree credit module options by departmentHow to enrol

This module seeks to introduce you to the debates that underlie political thinking today. How can people with radically different beliefs agree on rules for governing a political society? What is a just distribution of the benefits and burdens of living in such a society?

These two questions (and the others that they inevitably raise) are the focal points of this module. In addressing them, you will be introduced to some of the main thinkers in the history of political theory, such as Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Burke, Paine, Mill and Marx.

We will then engage in a study of the most important, influential and controversial contemporary attempt to defend a liberal political society, the liberalism of John Rawls. You will consider three different ways to argue against his view, on the grounds that liberals misunderstand (i) the value of community; (ii) people's rights to their property, and (iii) people's duties to do justice for society as a whole. Finally, you will examine some practical proposals for arranging the economic functions of a society, including the ideas of basic income, property-owning democracy, market socialism, and self-governing community. 

Information blocks

Learning objectives

By the end of this module you will be able to: 
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  • Study key texts in political theory through weekly readings and further close textual reading for analytical essays.
  • Examine the interplay of theory and history through set readings and class discussion.
  • Debate central political concepts and the interests of different stakeholders decisions through class activities.
  • Develop critical and analytical thought through constant critique of the ideas of yourself and other students in class exercises.
  • Link political theory in set readings to real-life current events through class study of news reports and policy documents.
  • Apply key concepts, research, and feedback to writing analytical essays and a News Analysis Exercise.

Indicative core content

  • The concepts of the social contract, natural rights, the general will as they appear in thinkers such as the Hobbes, Locke and Jean Jacques Rousseau.
  • The nature of Nationalism and a critical approach to the concept of the nation.
  • The development of Liberal Utilitarianism as a standard for evaluating politics.
  • How some of these ideas play out in historical events like the French Revolution and the birth of the labour movement.
  • Twentieth Century movements like Communism and Fascism.
  • The left-right debate as it has appeared in 20th century western democracies.
  • Some twentieth/ twenty first century political ideas like political ecology and technocracy that purport to exist outside the left-right spectrum.


Coursework: 1st Essay - 1500 words (30%)
Coursework: News Analysis Exercise completed in class - 500-1000 words (30%)
Coursework 2nd Essay - 1500 words (40%)

Key information

  • Requirements: You are expected to attend all classes and undertake approximately 85 hours of independent study in total during the module. Independent study includes reading and preparation for classes, researching and writing coursework assignments and preparing for other assessments.
  • This module is designed as an undergraduate Level 5 course. See Imperial Horizons level descriptors [pdf]
"Absolutely brilliant, have never done any politics before, this course definitely changed the way I think about the world. Improving my essay writing and learning to structure an argument will without doubt help my degree as well as the subject being fascinating in its own right. The content is totally engaging and very relevant in every aspect of life from personal well being to research science."
"The course was delivered with such enthusiasm it would take a very determined person not to grow to love the subject if they did not already. I loved the fact that there was always class participation and it was encouraged, I can't think of any other class that I've taken during my years at Imperial where students so freely and eagerly engaged with the material and I thank you for that. Definitely one of the highlights of my time here... Overall a superb course."
"I absolutely loved this course. If I could I would do it every week of my degree."
"The structure of the course is good as it shows the historical progression of political thinking. "
"Amazing subject, very glad I took it. Love the discussions in class, and is a great springboard for personal learning on the subject."