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PPR.322: Liberals and Communitarians

Tutor: TBC
Term: Not available 2014/15

Course Description

This module examines the central debates about politics and justice between liberals and communitarians in contemporary Anglo-American analytic philosophy. Whereas liberals stress the importance of the individual and the need for them to pursue their own good in their own way, communitarians stress the embedded, interconnected, and social nature of the persons and politics. The module asks three major questions. First, what does it mean to be engaged in political theory (how does thinking about politics illuminate our political practices, and what are the limits to this activity)? Second, how should we understand the idea of justice (who gets what and why)? Finally, what implications does our view of justice have for our political arrangements (what role does politics have in the delivery of justice, and how would we have to modify our arrangements to achieve justice)?

The module is divided into two main sections. First we concentrate on the central figure of this debate: John Rawls and his seminal work A Theory of Justice. We then look at how the debate has widened, initially by looking at the libertarian criticisms raised by Nozick before moving on to consider the communitarian positions advanced by Sandel, Walzer, Okin, and Pateman. The course ends by considering alternative forms of liberalism offered by Raz, Rorty, and Gray, which respond to the communitarian critiques.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:

  • Identify the central themes in an argument.
  • Compare and contrast differing political arguments and assess their validity.
  • Demonstrate an ability to apply theory to empirical cases and problems.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of key concepts in liberal democratic political thought.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of how ideas influence and shape politics.
  • Be able to review and assess the major texts/thinkers under review demonstrated through verbal and written assessment.
  • Articulate their own position in relation to the thinkers/themes of the course.


40% coursework and 60% exam.
Coursework: 1 essay of 3000 words. Exam: 2 hours.

Teaching Method

Lecture (1.5 hours) and seminar (1 hour) weekly.

Introductory Reading

Mulhall S & Swift A Liberals and Communitarians

Rawls J A Theory of Justice (original edition)

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