History of Political Thought


Course Objective

Knowledge and understanding – The student has acquired knowledge and
understanding of:
(1) the main theories of selected philosophers in the history of Western
political thought;
(2) the meaning of core political concepts (e.g., justice, state,
sovereignty, liberty, democracy) and the ways in which they have been
understood in the past and present.

Application – The student has acquired the competences to:
(3) apply the skills of close reading and textual analysis to study the
texts of selected and indeed non-selected political philosophers;
(4) apply ideas and theories from the history of political thought to
understand and analyze current political issues.

Making judgements – The student is able to:
(5) provide well-argued critical reflections on the texts of selected
political philosophers and on the normative questions they raise.

Communication – The student has acquired the skills to:
(6) constructively engage in academic discussions on political
philosophy texts and normative political questions;
(7) write a short academic essay engaging with the ideas of political
philosophers and developing an argument of its own.

Course Content

Political science is rooted in a tradition of normative reflection on
the biggest political questions: How should we as human beings live and
how should we live together? How should we rule or be ruled and how can
we be free? Which form of government (if any) allows us best to achieve
our personal and common goals? Such questions do not allow for easy
answers, but they underlie the way in which politics in the Western
world has been shaped (and studied) throughout history well into in our
own time. Hence, a course on the history of political thought is a
crucial part of any Political Science undergraduate program. It
introduces students to a range of classical texts (from Plato up until
the twentieth century) that offer highly influential answers to the
questions mentioned. These texts can be called classical because they
have been widely considered worthwhile for advancing political
reflection and because the ideas expressed in them have shaped the
principles and practices of politics as we know it. Studying them can
ultimately help us to better understand rivaling political convictions,
including our own.

Teaching Methods

Interactive lectures (2 per week)
Note: attendance and active participation is highly recommended and will
be rewarded. To make fruitful discussions possible, students who come to
class must (!) have read the assigned text in advance. Students who are
ill-prepared may be expelled from class. (This is also the case for the
very first class of the course.)

Method of Assessment

Two exams with closed and open (essay) questions (both 50%)
Note: instructions for the exams and the possibilities for retakes will
be detailed in the course guide.


Steven Cahn (2015), Political Philosophy: The Essential Texts. Oxford:
Oxford University Press. Third edition or later. (An earlier edition
will not suffice.) ISBN 978-0-19-020108-1.
Note: the book is available at the VU book store.

Target Audience

1st year bachelor students in Political Science.
Also open as an elective course for Exchange Students.

Additional Information

This course is primarily devoted to the reading, interpretation, and
discussion of important texts. Therefore, students should always bring
the textbook with them when they come to class.

General Information

Course Code S_HPT
Credits 6 EC
Period P4
Course Level 200
Language of Tuition English
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator dr. P. Overeem
Examiner dr. P. Overeem
Teaching Staff

Practical Information

You need to register for this course yourself

Teaching Methods Lecture
Target audiences

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