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Political Philosophy (Level 5)


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 5
  • Assessment: a 1000-word essay (40%) and 1500-word essay (60%)

Module description

Why democracy? In this module, we start out by looking at the supposedly close connection between democracy and justice, before turning to one of the central features of liberal forms of democracy: freedom of speech. Was Mill right that, no matter whether what’s said is true or false, we have reason not to restrict it, lest we assume our own infallibility? What about the argument that we sometimes have to restrict speech in the name of democratic deliberation? We also look at one of the main problems for democracy: if people rule, but people also tend to be largely ignorant about most matters relevant to politics, is democracy still viable? Deliberative democrats respond that, whether we are ignorant individually, so long as we get together to deliberate we will all be better off - and maybe such deliberation is also necessary for democratic equality, and should even be practised outside of politics, in organisations more generally. Epistocrats, by contrast, think public ignorance dooms democracy. Are they right? Are there perhaps resources outside of democratic theory, and in epistemology specifically, to save democracy from the epistocrat, as some have recently argued.

Indicative module syllabus

  • Defining democracy
  • Justifications of democracy
  • Liberalism and democracy
  • Majority rule
  • Freedom of speech
  • Deliberative democracy
  • Epistocracy
  • Political ignorance

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will be able to:

  • demonstrate detailed knowledge of well-established accounts of democracy (such as majority rule and self-government) and liberalism (such as political and cosmopolitan liberalism)
  • demonstrate an awareness of different ideas, contexts and frameworks deployed by contributors to debates over democracy and liberalism, and recognise some of their strengths and weaknesses
  • analyse and compare different justifications of democracy and liberalism, including instrumental justifications and appeals to political equality and rationality
  • select appropriate criteria to evaluate philosophical accounts of the relationship between democracy and such concepts as majority rule, deliberation and self-government; and between liberalism and such concepts as scepticism and autonomy.