Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit



Teaching organisation

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning, or the equivalent of 10 hours per week for 15 weeks. The total includes formally structured learning activities such as lectures, tutorials and online learning. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment.

Unit rationale, description and aim

This unit is concerned with examining the fundamental concepts and theories of justice and authority that characterise social and political thought. The unit explores how the theories address a range of pressing political and social problems concerning the nature and legitimacy of political authority, social and economic justice, the rights of individuals and groups, and the notions of liberty and equality. The unit serves an important role in introducing students to significant moral and political debates confronting society, provides them with an opportunity to explore influential perspectives regarding those debates, and asks them to develop a reasoned position of their own. The unit is designed to strengthen students' philosophical acumen and to provide them with the knowledge and skills necessary to engage constructively on important social and political issues. It also aims to enhance the kinds of critical thinking skills that are important across a range of occupations or professions.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - identify and accurately explain some of the central problems and key theories in social and political           philosophy (GA5); 

LO2 - critically analyse selected contemporary debates in the field concerning political authority, justice and        human rights, and develop coherent and consistent positions in relation to them (GA2; GA4; GA8); 

LO3 - demonstrate appropriate skills in philosophical research, and clear use of philosophically effective             English expression (GA5; GA9). 

Graduate attributes

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society 

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


Topics will include:

  • the nature of political society; 
  • theories of governmental legitimacy and the authority of law; 
  • models of political organisation; 
  • debates concerning justice and the notion of equality; 
  • debates concerning the nature and structure of human rights;  
  • conceptions of political and social liberty, and issues around the role of government;
  • debates regarding a just distribution of social resources 
  • the notion of the common good, and the contribution of Catholic social teaching. 

Applications will be made, as appropriate, to practical issues such as:

  • normative issues in taxation policy, social welfare, poverty;
  • issues regarding civil disobedience, legal standing and punishment
  • issues concerning immigration, refugees, global poverty;

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit involves 150 hours of focused learning, or the equivalent of 10 hours per week for 15 weeks. The total includes formally structured learning activities such as lectures, tutorials and online learning. The remaining hours typically involve reading, research, and the preparation of tasks for assessment.

The unit has been designed as a blend of direct instruction and project learning with a strong collaborative component. The direct instruction ensures that students develop a strong understanding of important philosophical concepts and theories and how they relate to the ethical problems under investigation, while the collaborative learning enables the students to apply those concepts and theories critically and reflectively to the issues at hand. These forms of class room instruction and engagement are designed to support students’ attainment of the learning outcomes. Students will be asked to engage in class discussions, provide written critiques of significant theories, and present their reasoned opinion on distinct philosophical positions, after being introduced to them through readings and lectures.  

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment strategy for this unit has been designed to examine students’ understanding of the philosophical issues and theories under consideration and deepen their ability to analyse and critically reflect on those issues and theories. It does so through a mix of cooperative/discussion-based and individual projects. The written analysis task examines understanding of key issues, concepts and debates. The oral presentation task examines critical thinking skills applied to this field, as well as skills in both oral and written communication/ engagement. The research essay examines higher level critical analysis and written argumentation skills in the field of political philosophy.    

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Written analysis task 

Requires students to demonstrate understanding of key concepts and debates.




Oral presentation with written component 

Requires  students to demonstrate critical thinking skills  in dialogue with others.  


LO1, LO2

GA2, GA4, GA5, GA8,

Research Essay

Requires students to critically analyse an important debate in the field and to develop a coherent position.


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA2, GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9 

Representative texts and references

Campbell, T. (2006). Rights: A Critical Introduction. London: Routledge.

Locke, J. (2008). Two Treatise of Government.  P. Laslett (ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Karl, M. (1990).  Capital, Vol I.  B. Fowkes (trans.). New York: Penguin Books.

Mill, J. S. (2010). J. S. Mill: 'On Liberty' and Other Writings. NY: Classic Books. Nozick, R. (1974).  Anarchy, State, and Utopia.  New York: Basic Books.

Rawls, J. (1971, 1999). A Theory of Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Rousseau, J-J. (2003). On the Social Contract. G.D.H. Cole (trans). New York: Dover.  

Sen, A. (2009). The Idea of Justice. London: Allen Lane.

 Wolff, J. (2006). An Introduction to Political Philosophy. 2nd Ed. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Zwolinski, M. (ed.). (2009). Arguing about Political Philosophy. New York: Routledge.

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