Political Philosophy: An Introduction (Online)


Political philosophy contains some of the greatest writings in the western intellectual tradition, as well as highly stimulating contemporary contributions. This online course introduces the student to classic and contemporary texts in the context of approaching some central questions in political philosophy concerning, the state, democracy, liberty and justice.

Listen to Dr Giovanni de Grandis talking about the course:

The course will provide an introduction to political philosophy by examining the justification of the state, problems democracy, liberty, justice, and feminist theory.

Students will be guided through the thought of various classical and contemporary thinkers in both primary and secondary readings, and are encouraged to think for themselves about the problems addressed. They will engage in various optional activities to stimulate personal reflection, and will contribute to group discussion designed to create a supportive online community with the common task of acquiring an understanding. By the end of the course students should feel confident of their own position on some of the debates studied.

For information on how the courses work, please click here.

Programme details

1. Politics, Philosophy and Political philosophy

  • Introducing political philosophy
  • The disciplines devoted to the study of politics
  • Some philosophical approaches to politics
  • The approach taken in this course

2. The state of nature

  • Introduction to the state of nature
  • Hobbes
  • Locke
  • Rousseau

3. Justifying the state - the social contract

  • Political obligation and the social contract
  • Locke and consent
  • Tacit consent and Hume's criticisms
  • Hypothetical consent

4. Justifying the state - Utilitarianism, the principle of fairness

  • Utilitarianism
  • The utilitarian theory of political obligation
  • The principle of fairness

5. Plato against democracy

  • Democracy: General conceptual issues
  • Plato against democracy
  • Analysing Plato's argument
  • Responding to Plato

6. Defending democracy

  • Rousseau
  • Rousseau and democracy
  • Mill
  • Mill and democracy

7. Liberty

  • Mill on liberty
  • Stephen, Devlin and Hart
  • Liberty
  • The Rushdie affair

8. Private property and the market

  • Abolishing property?
  • Locke on property
  • Private property and the free market

9. Rawls's theory of justice

  • Rawls
  • The restaurant
  • Rawls discussion

10. Feminist criticisms of liberalism

  • Feminism
  • Gender difference
  • Liberal rights and feminism

We strongly recommend that you try to find a little time each week to engage in the online conversations (at times that are convenient to you) as the forums are an integral, and very rewarding, part of the course and the online learning experience.


Credit Application Transfer Scheme (CATS) points 

To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £30 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online. If you do not register when you enrol, you have up until the course start date to register and pay the £30 fee. 

See more information on CATS point

Coursework is an integral part of all online courses and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework, but only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education, you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee. 


Digital credentials

All students who pass their final assignment, whether registered for credit or not, will be eligible for a digital Certificate of Completion. Upon successful completion, you will receive a link to download a University of Oxford digital certificate. Information on how to access this digital certificate will be emailed to you after the end of the course. The certificate will show your name, the course title and the dates of the course you attended. You will be able to download your certificate or share it on social media if you choose to do so. 

Please note that assignments are not graded but are marked either pass or fail. 


Description Costs
Course Fee £385.00
Take this course for CATS points £30.00


Dr Doug Bamford

Doug Bamford teaches courses in philosophy and political economy at OUDCE. His main interest is in political philosophy and its application to public policy. He obtained his PhD in 2013 and became an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (AFHEA) in 2023. He is author of Rethinking Taxation (Searching Finance, 2014) and several papers (including articles in the Journal of Applied Philosophy, Moral Philosophy and Politics, Problema, and Think). He blogs at Doug Bamford's Tax Appeal.

Course aims

This course aims to introduce students to political philosophy especially in the western liberal tradition by:

  • Guiding them through a number of classical and contemporary readings.
  • Helping them to think for themselves about these important but difficult issues.

Course objectives

  • Introduce students to philosophical thinking.
  • Guide students` reading through a number of classical and contemporary readings.
  • Help students understand the main problems in political philosophy including the authority of the state, the justification of democracy, the place of liberty, the distribution of property, and feminist theory.
  • Familiarise students with the key arguments for and against the main positions in the main debates in political philosophy.
  • Enable students to think for themselves about the issues involved in political philosophy.

Teaching methods

  •  Guided reading of texts
  •  Group discussions of particular issues
  •  Questions to be answered in personal folders
  •  Debating from positions given rather than from personal belief (to hone skills of debate)

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be expected to understand:

  • Some main problems of political philosophy, including the authority of the state, the justification of democracy, the place of liberty, the distribution of property, and feminist theory.
  • The main arguments for and against the various positions in these debates.
  • Their own position on some of these problems.

By the end of this course students will be expected to have gained the following skills:

  • The ability to think philosophically.
  • The ability to describe the main arguments for and against the main positions in the some main debates in political philosophy.
  • The ability constructively to criticise the arguments of philosophers.
  • The ability to explicate their own views in political philosophy.

Assessment methods

You will be set two pieces of work for the course. The first of 500 words is due halfway through your course. This does not count towards your final outcome but preparing for it, and the feedback you are given, will help you prepare for your assessed piece of work of 1,500 words due at the end of the course. The assessed work is marked pass or fail.

English Language Requirements

We do not insist that applicants hold an English language certification, but warn that they may be at a disadvantage if their language skills are not of a comparable level to those qualifications listed on our website. If you are confident in your proficiency, please feel free to enrol. For more information regarding English language requirements please follow this link: https://www.conted.ox.ac.uk/about/english-language-requirements


Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an Enrolment form for short courses | Oxford University Department for Continuing Education

Level and demands

FHEQ level 4, 10 weeks, approx 10 hours per week, therefore a total of about 100 study hours.

IT requirements

This course is delivered online; to participate you must to be familiar with using a computer for purposes such as sending email and searching the Internet. You will also need regular access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification.