Political Theory

The theory faculty in both graduate courses and research have challenged students to confront the history of Western political thought text by text in order to sharpen and focus analytical skills and to develop for themselves standards of judgment through which they can assess the relative merits of political systems and public policies throughout the history of Western civilization including the contemporary world.  This focus requires careful textual analysis of the canons of Western political thought but always with an eye to the fundamental political problems that are addressed in those texts. 

The political theory curriculum involves both analytical and ethical/policy issues mentioned above.  To this end the proseminars 511-512 (in association with Political Science 371-372) are critical.  As it has evolved, this group of courses provides one of the most comprehensive introductions to the history of political thought in the country.  Graduate students generally have regular exposure to all four of the theorists in the course of the year.  Requiring graduate students to attend undergraduate lectures allows faculty the luxury of conducting seminar discussions that are, in the normal course of graduate education, simply not available in most other comprehensive introductory courses.

Political theory will continue to offer, depending upon demand, a range of historically based courses that will, in addition to the introductory sequence from Plato to Marx, include attention to the Roman political tradition, medieval political thought, the political thought of the Renaissance and the Reformation, the British tradition from Hobbes to J.S. Mill, the European Enlightenment, Rousseau, Hegel, the Marxist and neo-Marxist tradition, Existentialism, and contemporary political thought.

New doctoral students in political theory  are  required to demonstrate competence in a foreign language, by translating two short pieces (one page or less) from a political theory text with the aid of a dictionary.  The hour-and-a-half test will be given twice annually and must be passed before the oral examination in the field.  The language may be Latin, French, German, Spanish, Italian, or such other language as approved by the Field Chair for use in the student's research.


Bathory, Dennis
Gambino, Elena



16:790:511,512  Political Thought: Plato to Marx  (Combined with the aforementioned undergraduate lecture series on the same material, 790:371-372)

An intensive two-semester course in the history of political thought from Plato to J.S. Mill, issuing in a written examination administered and graded by the entire graduate political theory faculty.


16:790:513  Philosophy of Political Inquiry

Introduction to the major issues in political and social inquiry in the broad perspective of the philosophy of the social sciences.  Emphasis on the problems of epistemology, methodology, and historiography in political theory and political science.  The orientation is philosophic and not methodological.

16:790:514  American Political Thought

Prerequisites: 01:790:375,376 or permission of instructor.

Major themes in American political thought from the seventeenth century to the present; particular emphasis on contemporary movements and ideas including the new left, the new right, and black thought.

16:790:517  Democracy, Values and Public Policy:  Theoretical  Foundations

Theoretical foundations of public policy in a democracy.  Complementarity and conflict between such fundamental values as liberty, equality, justice, security, efficiency, quality (of life), planning, community, fraternity, individuality, and privacy; theoretical implications of distinctions between public and private goods, interests, and values.

16:790:540 Theories of Democratic Transitions

This course examines the conceptual framework surrounding the ideal of democratic transitions.

16:790:558  The British Tradition

Social contract theory, utilitarianism, and empiricism in English political thought, with emphasis on the political sources and meanings of works by Hobbes, Locke, Smith, Burke, Hume, and John Stuart Mill.

16:790:579 The Enlightenment: The Philosophers and Their Critics

The political thought of Kant, Rousseau, and their contemporaries. Emphasis on enlightenment      responses to the political, educational, and moral problems of modernity.

16:790:580 The 19th Century: Continental Political Thought from Hegel to Marx to Nietzsche

Topics in the political thought of selected theorists from sequences including Hegel, Herder, Marx, and Nietzsche;  and de Maistre, Bonald, Comte, and Fourier. 

16:790:590 Women and Political Theory

Examines role of women in the polity as addressed by major political philosophers.   Analyzes sex discrimination as a problem for theories of rights, justice, and equality.  Examples from historical and contemporary readings. (Cross-listed with Women & Politics)

16:790:605  The Philosophy of Law and Jurisprudence

The nature of law and its relation to other normative systems; major legal philosophies.  Other topics will include legal reasoning, the enforcement of morality, and the justification of punishment.

16:790:607  Contemporary Philosophy and Politics

Recent developments in philosophy and their implications for politics and political theory.

16:790:608 Critical Theory

This course will concentrate on those thinkers, usually associated with Western Marxism and the Frankfort School, who are the most important representatives of what has come to be know as “critical theory.”

Research Courses:

16:790:610 Research Topics in Political Theory

An  intensive research seminar for advanced students.  Topics vary from year to year.