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Josef Korbel School of International Studies

Political Theory at Korbel


Introduction to Political Theory

Instructor: Micheline Ishay
Course Number: INTS 4708 
CRN: 3592 
Date & Time: Wednesdays | 9:00 - 11:50 am 

Course Description:  

Political theory analyzes and interprets the foundations of political life and evaluates its principles, concepts and institutions. It is fundamentally concerned with the normative political relationships among human beings that revolve around the organization and basis of government. This course provides an introduction to Western political theory through key texts and thinkers that are reference points in the social science literature. The focus will be on the Enlightenment tradition and the approach will be geared toward understanding how the seminal texts and thinkers of this period have shaped— and continue to shape—our understanding of political ideas and norms. This course will also have a pragmatic component, where the books and ideas under consideration will be applied to contemporary international debates and issues. Please note that this course is geared toward students without a strong background in political theory. No previous knowledge is required or assumed. All that is needed is an open mind and willingness to work hard. Professor Micheline Ishay will be the course coordinator and guest lectures will be delivered by several Korbel and greater DU faculty members.


Foundations of Social Science

Mission Statement

The Political Theory Initiative at the Josef Korbel School seeks to provide a forum for discussion and debate on theoretical questions related to the study of international affairs. This initiative also seeks to co-ordinate and promote the study of political theory at the University of Denver via the teaching of new courses, hosting of speakers and the screening of films.

What is Political Theory?

Political theory begins with the question: what ought to be a person's relationship to society? The subject seeks the application of ethical concepts to the social sphere and thus deals with the variety of forms of government and social existence that people could live in – and in so doing, it also provides a standard by which to analyze and judge existing institutions and relationships.

Although the two are intimately linked by a range of philosophical issues and methods, political theory can be distinguished from political science. Political science predominantly deals with existing states of affairs, and insofar as it is possible to be amoral in its descriptions, it seeks a positive analysis of social affairs – for example, constitutional issues, voting behavior, the balance of power, the effect of judicial review, and so forth. Political theory generates visions of the good social life: of what ought to be the ruling set of values and institutions that combine men and women together.