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Reading Classic Texts Today


  • Credit value: 15 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor and tutor: Samantha Ashenden
  • Assessment: a 3000-word essay (90%) and learning log (10%)

Module description

This module will provide you with the skills of critical interpretation necessary to judge the relevance of key texts in the history of political thought to our understanding of politics today. It starts out by addressing the problem of the ‘canon’ of Western political thought, arguments about how importance of intellectual context and authorial intention in the construction of texts, and what constitutes a critical reading of the text. It then turns to some of the key classic texts, such as those of Hobbes, Locke, Kant and Rousseau, as well as more contemporary ‘classic’ texts such as those of Rawls and Shklar.

Indicative module syllabus

  • Meaning and contexts: reading classic texts today
  • Hobbes and the problem of sovereignty
  • Schmitt’s reply to Hobbes
  • Locke and property
  • Rethinking property: news arguments for commons
  • Kant on law and the organisation of political power
  • Rawls’ reply to Kant
  • Rousseau and the need for a new social contract
  • Shklar’s reply to Rousseau

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will:

  • have a critical understanding of a range of key classic texts in political thought and political theory
  • be able to engage with and contribute critically to arguments about the interpretation of classic texts
  • have a critical understanding of the application of concepts and theories drawn from the classic texts to contemporary political problems, as well as being able to assess the limits of such applications
  • be able to synthesise a variety of materials across primary and secondary texts to explain and support your own arguments concerning key problems in the study of classical political theories
  • have developed skills of critical thinking, enquiry, synthesis, analysis and evaluation that can be employed on other modules studied at this level.