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College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Department of Political Science

Dr. Masket talks to foreign press about the Debate


Political Theory

Political theory engages with the big questions of political life with which all people have struggled, in one form or another. Questions discussed in this sub-field include:

  • What do we mean when we use terms such as "liberty" and "justice," and how have those definitions changed over time?
  • Can power be exercised justly? What exactly are "American" values, and where do they come from?
  • What rights and duties do citizens have? Are some systems of authority inherently better than others?
  • What are the origins and forms of government?

Political theorists explore the multiple meanings of fundamental political concepts, such as right and responsibility, power and justice, and ask how these concepts are embodied in various political orders.

The courses in this sub-field reflect an array of approaches to political theory. Some courses focus on close readings of classic political theory texts, by authors such as Aristotle, Plato, Confucius, Aquinas, Hobbes, Locke, Tocqueville, Mill, Marx, Rawls, Arendt and Nozick—people who developed and defended comprehensive visions of proper political system.

Other courses focus on a particular theme, such as the struggle for political identity in a culturally complex world, or the justice and efficacy of alternative economic orders.

All majors in our department are exposed to at least one political theory course, and students with a strong interest can indulge it through explorations across diverse topics.

Frequently offered courses include:

  • Contemporary Political Thought
  • American Political Thought
  • Crisis of Authority and Values
  • Quest for Community
  • Democracy and the Corporation
  • Justice & the Classical Political Community
  • The Rise of Modern Political Individualism
  • Consciousness & Political Thought