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The University of Southampton

PHIL1006 Political Philosophy

Module Overview

States impose many demands upon their citizens through the law and the magistrates and police who enforce it. But are there good reasons why citizens should comply with these demands, or do they act merely out of a fear of punishment? Some states we seem to see as exercising illegitimate forms of power over their peoples; so what distinguishes those states from those we believe merit obedience? Or might the very idea of 'governmental authority' be a nonsense, as some anarchists have claimed? This module will explore some of the most influential attempts that have been made to answer these fundamental philosophical questions. We will explore a range of accounts of what government is for - Is it there to help us achieve our own selfish ends? Or to help us to live good lives? We will ask what life would be like without a state: for example, would it be 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short', as Hobbes argued? The module will explore and evaluate such claims, along with the fundamental conceptions of human nature and of human flourishing that inspire them.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

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

  • some of the work of influential political philosophers, such as Hobbes, Locke or Rousseau.
  • how to apply this understanding to questions concerning political obligation and legitimacy.
  • how to relate the issues the module concerns with those in other areas of philosophy, especially moral philosophy.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • interpret, synthesise and criticise complex texts and positions.
  • present and debate ideas in an open minded and rigorous way.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • undertake, with adequate supervision, independent work, including identifying and using appropriate resources.
  • analyse and evaluate difficult texts.
  • work effectively to deadlines.
  • take notes from talks and written materials.
  • present ideas in a clear and engaging fashion.


The syllabus may vary from year to year. Topics might include: - voluntarist, deontological and teleological theories of political legitimacy - the work of 'social contract' theorists such as Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau - Hume's and Nozick's criticisms of the 'social contract' tradition - political applications of the utilitarianism of J. S. Mill - reflections on fairness and justice offered by John Rawls and H. L. A. Hart - individualist and communal anarchism - feminist developments of, and criticisms of, the 'social contract' tradition

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include - Lectures - In-class discussion - One on one consultation with the module coordinator Learning activities include - Attending lectures - Contributing to class discussion - Doing research and preparation for presentations and exams. - Applying techniques and skills learnt to your reading and writing inside and outside the module In the lectures, you will not only be introduced to the philosophical issues central to this module and the ideas of the philosophers studied but also encouraged to think about them for yourself. Your own ideas and any difficulties you encounter can be raised and discussed in class and in office hours. Your preparation for the exam and presentation should involve you in thinking deeply about the relevant issues and texts.

Follow-up work24
Wider reading or practice24
Preparation for scheduled sessions24
Completion of assessment task23
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list


J Wolff (2006). An Introduction to Political Philosophy. 

D Wootton (1996). Modern Political Thought. 



Group presentation


MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (1 hours) 60%
Group presentation 40%


MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (2 hours) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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