Foundations of Political Philosophy

Graduate Program (& Advanced Certificate) Status

Course Level: 
Course Open to: 
Students on-site
Remote students
Academic Year: 
US Credits: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Code: 
POLS 5215
Course Description: 

The course focuses on a few of the most fundamental problems of normative political philosophy, regarding the ground and scope of the authority of the state to make and enforce rules that bind its citizens. Most people would agree that the state indeed has such authority, and that citizens are usually under a moral obligation to comply with the rules made by the government. However, there are deep disagreements concerning the source of this authority as well as about its proper limits: what are the goals that the government may or must rightfully pursue and by what means? Under what circumstances are its citizens exempt from the obligation to obey its laws? These are among the questions that will be examined in this course. First, we will discuss different theories of political obligation, i.e. theories about the moral basis of our obligation, if any, to comply with laws. The theories discussed will include consent theories, justice-based theories, and fair-play theories. Second, we will attend to the problem of distributive justice: are material inequalities between citizens unjust, and if so, under what circumstances? Is the state required to pursue some profile of distribution of goods in society, and if so, what characterizes that profile? We will discuss utilitarian, egalitarian, and libertarian accounts of justice. Third, it is widely held that democratic procedures of political decision-making have a special claim to legitimacy. In this context, we will discuss different accounts of the value of democracy as well as some prominent contemporary theoretical doubts about democracy.

Learning Outcomes: 

Improving analytical skills, enhancing the ability to reason logically about normative problems, to understand, identify, characterize and evaluate different theoretical positions and arguments, to construct normative arguments of one’s own.


Students are expected towatch all recorded videos and read all the required readings prior to the synchronous meetings. They must complete short weekly tests assessing their understanding of the reading and video material. These tests are not graded but mandatory as a self-monitoring tool as well as a tool for the instructor to check the progress of each student. Students must submit questions about the readings each week at least 12 hours prior to the synchronous meetings, and a selection of these questions will be discussed at these live sessions. 

The final grade is based upon a midterm exam (30%), a final paper (40%), and participation (30%). The participation includes a group project in which groups of cca. Three students produce a review of one of the three main topical units of the course, with some independent research and additional readings. In addition, there will be weekly tests that test students’ understanding of the readings, their ability to identify and distinguish between normative, empirical, and conceptual claims, and to identify and evaluate premises, inferences and conclusions of arguments. Performance on these exercises are not graded, but participation is mandatory, and missing them results in reduction of the participation component of the assessment. Failing to submit questions prior to the meetings will also result in reduction of the participation component. The quality the questions, their clarity and precision, and their reflection of the reading of the required tests, also forms part of the participation grade.