Modern Social and Political Thought

The details
Philosophical, Historical and Interdisciplinary Studies (School of)
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Thursday 05 October 2023
Friday 15 December 2023
06 September 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA LV25 Philosophy and Politics,
BA LV26 Philosophy and Politics (Including Placement Year),
BA LV2H Philosophy and Politics (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA LV2M Philosophy and Politics (Including Year Abroad),
BA LV8M Philosophy and Politics (Including Foundation Year),
BA V5M8 Philosophy with Human Rights (Including Foundation Year),
BA V5M9 Philosophy with Human Rights,
BA V5MX Philosophy with Human Rights (Including Year Abroad),
BA V6M9 Philosophy with Human Rights (Including Placement Year),
BA VLM8 Philosophy with Human Rights (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad)

Module description

This module will introduce students to key debates in modern social and political thought. It will give students a deeper understanding of our intellectual and socio-political history as well as a more profound perspective on the still active debates stemming from the positions taken by these philosophers. In the process, we will come to see modernity in terms of a specific set of problems rather than one particular answer to them.

We will focus on seminal texts by authors such as Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant whose contributions have radically transformed our understanding of social and political life. We will explore the roots of modern notions like the state and society and scrutinise the nature of freedom, power, and democracy. Finally, we will consider whether these authors' accounts of social pathologies can still be a guide for critiques of contemporary society.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

  • To appreciate the key contributions that Thomas Hobbes, Baruch de Spinoza and Jean-Jacques Rousseau have made to our modern understanding of society and politics.

  • Develop an understanding of key political concepts like democracy, authority, sovereignty, freedom, power, equality and tolerance and the ability to critically scrutinise different conceptualisations of these ideas.

  • To develop and understanding of the extent and the ways in which these modern conceptual innovations still shape contemporary political life.

  • To be able to assess whether and how these conceptual innovations can still underpin social and political critiques of contemporary society.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module students should be able in their written and oral work:

  1. to summarise in their own words and critically assess the philosophical ideas and concepts at work in the main texts examined the course

  2. to explicate the central social and political theories presented in these texts, and relate them to important political events in historical period in which they were written

  3. to compare and evaluate these social and political theories, making use of selected secondary literature

  4. to demonstrate an understanding of the influence these theories have on our contemporary understanding of politics, making reference to contemporary political phenomena and/or theory

By the end of the module, students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to

  1. define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant

  2. seek and organize the most relevant discussions and sources of information

  3. process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments

  4. compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure

  5. write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications

  6. be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them

  7. think 'laterally' and creatively - see interesting connections and possibilities and present these clearly rather than as vague hunches

  8. maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position if shown wrong

  9. think critically and constructively

Module information

Incoming Study Abroad students must have already taken an introductory module in Philosophy at their home institution.

Learning and teaching methods

1 x 2-hour lecture and discussion session each week, followed by a one-hour discussion seminar at which issues covered in the lecture will be discussed. Week 8 is a Reading Week.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography for this year.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Mr Plamen Andreev, email:
PHAIS General Office - 6.130;



External examiner

Dr Josiah Saunders
Durham University
Associate Professor
Available via Moodle
Of 45 hours, 45 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


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