Political Theory

What is justice? Why do governments exist? What does it mean to be a good citizen? These are some of the central questions explored in political theory. As is evident from these questions, political theory is largely a normative enterprise—meaning that it is less concerned with what is than with what should be. By searching for ideal political forms, political theory helps to guide the efforts of other political scientists while also challenging core assumptions and concepts in the study and practice of politics. At the same time, political theory involves a deep awareness of empirical reality. Students will read the works of great thinkers in the history of Western political thought—such as Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Rousseau, Nietzsche, and Foucault—to deepen their understanding of human nature, power, and rights. Students may also study thinkers outside of the Western tradition to gain a more global perspective. Ultimately, political theory is not just about examining the world around us; it is also about examining ourselves. For as the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates once said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”