Foundations of Political Philosophy

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 identify, characterize and evaluate different theoretical positions and arguments, to construct normative arguments of one’s own.


Students are expected to read all the required readings come to the sessions well-prepared with questions and comments that are informed by the readings. The final grade is based upon a midterm exam (30%), a final paper (45%), and participation (25%). In addition, there will be two short in-class exercises that test students’ 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.


No pre-requisites.

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