POLS106-21S2 (C) Semester Two 2021

Plato to Nato: Introduction to Political Thought

15 points

Start Date: Monday, 19 July 2021
End Date: Sunday, 14 November 2021
Withdrawal Dates
Last Day to withdraw from this course:
  • Without financial penalty (full fee refund): Sunday, 1 August 2021
  • Without academic penalty (including no fee refund): Friday, 1 October 2021


What’s the right thing for a group of people to do? How does a society know it is well governed? How do you know you are doing the right thing for your country, or your fellow citizens, or how that will impact on your family and friends? Who matters more, your family or your fellow citizens? The best way to answer these questions has been debated for more than over 2000 years. This course is an introduction to the thinkers that have suggested answers to these questions and influenced everyone from Plato to Trump and you. In this course, you will study the evolution of the ideas that form the building blocks of the political and social sciences. The course traverses the political ideas that arose in the Greek and Roman civilisations, the Renaissance, the birth of America, the death of the English and French despotic monarchies, and the great traumas of socialism, Marxism and the political upheavals that followed the wars of the 20th century. We will trace the changes in the fundamental political concepts such as freedom, equality, rights, justice, government, the state, markets, and domination.

This course is concerned with the basis of many of our political beliefs. It will examine fundamental political concepts such as freedom, equality, and human rights, seeing how these are interpreted by differing political ideologies, especially liberalism. The course will also look at the challenge presented to liberalism by multiculturalism and democracy. In the later part of the course we will be examining the case for the state, and looking at socialism, conservatism, anarchism, nationalism, and fascism, finishing with a look at a major classical text, Plato’s Apology.

Course Goals
Academic aims: To foster a detailed critical understanding of a range of arguments in contemporary political philosophy, and the ability to criticise, evaluate, and apply these arguments.

Learning objectives: By the end of the module, students should be able to comprehend and critically analyse complex arguments from contemporary political philosophy, to provide a critical account of them, and to construct and defend their own sustained arguments about major political values.

Learning Outcomes

  • Explain the intellectual origins of the Western political tradition, beginning with Greek and Roman understandings of human nature, virtue, justice, democracy, law and politics.
  • Explain the origins of Western political thought according to early-to-medieval Christian thinkers, Augustine and Aquinas, on human nature, reason, natural law, virtue and political rule.
  • Explain the political liberal tradition according to Machiavelli, Bodin, Hobbes on human nature, reason, equal freedom, right, and emerging ideas of sovereignty.
  • Explain the liberal tradition according to Locke, Montesquieu, and Mill on consent, liberty and popular sovereignty.
  • Explain the critiques of liberal political thought by Rousseau, Marx, and Harriet Taylor, on human nature, equality, freedom and justice.
  • Explain the debates in modern liberal thought and politics according to Bentham, Mill, Tocqueville, Hayek and Popper on liberty, equality, individuality, consent and coercion, and best forms of government.
  • Demonstrate study skills for academic writing in referencing, building scholarly bibliography, quotes, and producing formal writing.
  • Demonstrate the ability to discuss basic ideas in political theory, reference those ideas to texts, and examine the role they play in contemporary political debates.
    • University Graduate Attributes

      This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attributes specified below:

      Critically competent in a core academic discipline of their award

      Students know and can critically evaluate and, where applicable, apply this knowledge to topics/issues within their majoring subject.


Equivalent Courses

Timetable 2021

Students must attend one activity from each section.

Lecture A
Activity Day Time Location Weeks
01 Tuesday 09:00 - 11:00 Eng Core 222 & 223 Drawing Office
19 Jul - 29 Aug
13 Sep - 24 Oct
Lecture B
Activity Day Time Location Weeks
01 Thursday 11:00 - 12:00 Eng Core 222 & 223 Drawing Office
19 Jul - 29 Aug
13 Sep - 24 Oct
Tutorial A
Activity Day Time Location Weeks
01 Thursday 17:00 - 18:00 Online Delivery [011]
19 Jul - 29 Aug
13 Sep - 24 Oct

Course Coordinator

Lindsey MacDonald


Assessment Due Date Percentage  Description
Weekly assignment 15% A small quiz, assignment or forum discussion
Essay 30%
Essay Proposal 5% A hypothesis, bibliography uploaded to Learn & discussion with lecturer by the end of the Week 4
Final Exam 30% 2 hours
Test 20% 1 hour

Textbooks / Resources

Also recommended:

Will Kymlicka, Contemporary Political Philosophy, 2nd ed, Oxford University Press, 2002.
Dryzek, John, Bonnie Honig, and Anne Phillips, eds. 2006. The Oxford Handbook of
Political Theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Goodin, Robert E., and Phillip Pettit, eds. 2006. Contemporary Political Philosophy: An
Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Wolff, Jonathan. 2006. An Introduction to Political Philosophy. Oxford, UK: Oxford
University Press.

Indicative Fees

Domestic fee $785.00

International fee $3,500.00

* All fees are inclusive of NZ GST or any equivalent overseas tax, and do not include any programme level discount or additional course-related expenses.

For further information see Language, Social and Political Sciences.

All POLS106 Occurrences

  • POLS106-21S2 (C) Semester Two 2021
  • POLS106-21S2 (D) Semester Two 2021 (Distance)