Module Details

PY413-6-FY-CO: Contemporary Political Philosophy

Note: This module is inactive. Visit the Module Directory to view modules and variants offered during the current academic year.

Year: 2017/18
Department: Philosophy
Essex credit: 30
ECTS credit: 15
Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students: Yes
Full Year Module Available to Study Abroad / Exchange Students for a Single Term: Yes
Outside Option: Yes

Supervisor: Dr Lorna Finlayson Wheeler (SP Term), Dr Joerg Schaub (AU Term)
Teaching Staff: Dr Jörg Schaub (autumn), Dr Lorna Finalyson (spring)
Contact details: Tracy Donaldson, Second and Final Year Administrator email:

Module is taught during the following terms
Autumn Spring Summer

Module Description

This is the main final year module in contemporary political philosophy. It is compulsory for final year students on the BA Philosophy and Politics. It is open to second year philosophy students (single and joint honours) and outside option students, but only with the Module Supervisor`s permission.

By way of preparation, it is advantageous to have taken PY400 (Conceptual Foundations of Modernity) and/or PY429 (Capitalism and its Critics) during the second year. GV250 (Principles of Social Justice) is also very helpful. PY413 does not overlap with GV538 (Contemporary Theories of Justice) or GV544 (Human Rights and Global Justice); the three modules complement each other well.

Module Outline (updated March 2015)

The module examines some of the central issues in contemporary political philosophy. It takes a broad view of this area of philosophy, concentrating not only on liberal theories of justice, but also comparing them to alternative approaches.

Autumn Term:
What is the role of political philosophy? How should theory and theorists relate to real politics? What are the competing approaches in contemporary philosophy? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How do these approaches relate to each other? In this term, the focus will be on a reflective and critical analysis of the very nature of political philosophy. Far too often, the assumption in mainstream contemporary debates is that there is only one way to do political philosophy - the liberal, ideal theoretical approach shaped by the work of John Rawls - but, in fact, there is both more variety and the mainstream approach is built on controversial methodological assumptions which themselves have, arguably, substantive implications. The aim of the term is to equip students with a broad sense of the range of options and approaches within political philosophy, and with the tools to compare and contrast them.

Spring Term: (updated April 2015)
In the spring term we will examine a number of concepts that are used in political philosophy in order to analyse injustices and other kinds of disadvantage. We will look at concepts such as alienation and exploitation, coercion and oppression, objectification and stereotyping. We shall ask what exactly these concepts mean, how they differ from one another, what is wrong with the phenomena they describe, and how these phenomena can be combatted. The aim of the term is to equip students with the necessary conceptual means to engage critically with the world we live in.

Learning Outcomes:
By the end of the module students should be able in their written work:
to summarise in their own words and critically assess the principal theories and philosophical concepts examined in this module;
to compare and evaluate conflicting accounts of political values and principles;
to offer detailed philosophical analysis and critique of journal articles published in the field;
to demonstrate an understanding of the relation between political theory and practice by relating, for example, particular theories to their own experience of political life.

Learning and Teaching Methods

1 x one-hour lecture each week followed by a one-hour seminar at which issues covered in the lecture will be discussed. Weeks 8 and 21 which are Reading Weeks. Weeks 30 and 31 (Summer Term) are revision sessions.


50 per cent Coursework Mark, 50 per cent Exam Mark


2 x 2,000-3,000 word essays (each worth 50% of the final coursework mark) (see Philosophy Undergraduate Handbook and full module description on ORB in September for further details).

Exam Duration and Period

3:00 during Summer Examination period.

Other information

Erasmus/IP students must have already taken at least two Philosophy modules at their home institutions.


  • Brief Bibliography and Preparatory Reading (updated March 2015)
  • Introductory and Background Reading
  • Preparatory Reading
  • Autumn Term
  • Spring Term
  • Rahel Jaeggi, Alienation, trans. and ed. Frederick Neuhouser (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).
  • Autumn Term
  • Jonathan Floyd and Marc Stears, Political Philosophy versus History?: Contextualism and Real Politics in Contemporary Political Thought, Cambridge UP, 2011.
  • Samuel Freeman, Rawls, Routledge, 2007.
  • Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy, Second Edition, OUP, 2002.
  • Zofia Stemplowska, and Adam Swift, `Ideal and Nonideal Theory`, in D. Estlund (ed.), Oxford Handbook of Political Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 212, pp. 373-392.
  • Spring Term
  • Scott Anderson, `Coercion`, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2011, available at
  • Rahel Jaeggi, Alienation, trans. and ed. Frederick Neuhouser (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).
  • Alan Wertheimer & Matt Zwolinski, `Exploitation`, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2012, available at
  • Allen Wood, Karl Marx, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2001), Parts One and Three.
  • Iris Marion Young, `Five Faces of Oppression`, in Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).

Further information