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The University of Southampton

PAIR3050 Power and Ethics Before Machiavelli

Module Overview

The framing of this module is that Machiavelli has seriously misled modern political thinking by permitting a wedge to be driven between morality and politics. Even if that was not Machiavelli’s intention, that has been the consequence of his ideas. Thus, this module can be approached as an extended criticism and response to Machiavellianism in political thought and in politics. We will recover a lost way of thinking that does not drive a wedge between morality and politics. This recovery will show us a more subtle way of thinking about morality and politics in order to understand that this earlier tradition of thought has more depth and rings more true with regard to our own moral convictions. However, the purpose is not primarily about beating up Machiavelli, enjoyable though that is; our primary purpose is to think more deeply about actual political problems that challenge our own moral beliefs. Our primary texts come from the ancient Greeks and the focus is on the ethical use of political power – whether that is possible and what it would like like in practice. Who should take this module? It should appeal to those who think Machiavelli was right, but who are not afraid to have their convictions challenged. It should appeal to those who disagree with Machiavelli and are looking for penetrating arguments to use against him. It should appeal to those who observe contemporary politics and are alarmed that we are seeing blatant dishonesty, torture, arms sales to oppressive regimes, and a host of other behaviours that we feel are deeply wrong. After a brief recap of Machiavelli to set the stage, we will dive in to an analysis of those thinkers who defined the tradition of Western political thought before Machiavelli, Plato and Aristotle. Through them we will find a richer and more profound – and more applicable to our our world – understanding of the conflict between morality and politics, more profound than any modern thought infected with Machiavelli’s ideas. This module will actively undermine cynical, realist thinking about politics that becomes a lazy excuse for not asking ethical questions of our politicians or ourselves.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • Describe and explain key aspects of Platonic and Aristotelian thought
  • Identify and analyse key arguments in political ethics
  • Apply theories examined to other cases
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Written communication
  • Independent working
  • Problem solving
  • Oral communication
  • Interpersonal skills


1. Ethics and politics before Machiavelli 2. Ant-ethical politics 3. Anti-political ethics 4. Seeking (and not finding?) compatibility

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

There are two formal lectures and one Supplementary Lecture each week. Supplementary Lectures are held in teaching week 3-9. The formal lectures introduce material from the assigned reading. In the Supplementary Lectures, I will answer questions about the material and review and develop the key points from the most recent lectures.

Independent Study114
Total study time150



Blog/written assignment


MethodPercentage contribution
Annotated bibliography  () 30%
Essay  (2000 words) 70%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

Linked modules

Pre-requisites: PAIR1001 OR PAIR1002 OR PAIR1004 OR PAIR1005 OR PHIL1005

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