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Contemporary Political Philosophy I: Authority, Obligation and Democracy

Course Code: PUBLGL08

Course Tutor: Dr Avia Pasternak (Department of Political Science)

Assessment: 1,000 word essay (40%) + 2,000 word essay (60%)

Credit Value: 15

About this course

This course critically examines the ethical and philosophical questions surrounding the relationship between the individual and the political authority, with a particular focus on how these questions have been addressed by contemporary Anglo-American analytic political philosophers.

The course is divided into two parts:

I. Obligation and authority

It is commonly assumed that states (or at least some states) have the right to rule and their citizens have the obligation to obey the state’s commands. But what are the grounds of these rights and obligations? Is the state’s right to rule compatible with the autonomy of the individual? Do citizens ever have the right to engage in civil disobedience? And under what circumstances may groups within the state withdraw their loyalty and secede?

II. Democracy

In this day and age, it is commonly assumed that democracy is the only form of legitimate government. But why is this so? What exactly is democracy? What is so special about it? Why wouldn’t an enlightened elite have more of a claim to legitimate authority than a poorly informed electorate?

Aims and Objectives

Course Aims:

This is a course in political theory/philosophy. It aims to familiarise students with the contemporary literature on political authority, obligation and democracy.

Course objectives:

By the end of the course, students should:

  • have a clear understanding and the ability to offer sophisticated philosophical arguments about the problem of legitimate political authority, different competing grounds of political obligations and the circumstances under which political authority may be challenged.
  • have a clear understanding and the ability to offer sophisticated philosophical arguments about the normative debates concerning the nature, moral status and limits of democratic authority.
  • be able to engage in normative/ethical debates about political matters.
  • be able to orally present and defend a philosophical argument in a clear and accessible manner.
  • develop and improve their analytical writing skills.

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School of Public Policy,
The Rubin Building,
29/31 Tavistock Square,
London, WC1H 9QU.
Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 4999,
Fax: +44 (0)20 7679 4978,

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Tel: +44 (0)20 7679 4982/4950

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Page last modified on 03 jun 16 11:50

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