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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

Social and political philosophy asks fundamental questions about authority and governance, social justice and human rights, and as such, it deals with matters of fundamental importance concerning the way people live together in organised communities. This unit is concerned with examining basic 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.

Learning Outcome NumberLearning Outcome DescriptionRelevant Graduate Capabilities
LO1Describe some of the major problems in social and political philosophyGC1, GC6
LO2Critically analyse selected contemporary debates concerning political authority, justice and human rights, and develop coherent and consistent positions in relation to themGC2, GC3, GC7, GC8
LO3Demonstrate skills in philosophical research and referencingGC9, GC10
LO4Communicate ideas and arguments effectively through the use of clear English expression and well-structured argumentsGC11, GC12


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, and will be offered in a range of delivery modes.

The unit employs a project-based learning approach, combined with some direct instruction to ensure that unfamiliar concepts and theories are understood. The direct instruction, combined with class discussion, are important to ensure that the central philosophical problems explored in the unit are clearly identified for and with students, without which the concepts, theories, and debates will make little sense (LO1). The project-based aspect relates to the first two structured written tasks, culminating in the final research essay. The first two structured written tasks pave the way for students to develop the requisite analytical skills for addressing a philosophical topic in some depth (LO1 and LO2). The research project enables students to further develop their own reasoned response or position on these matters (LO2). The research project also facilitates the development of students' nascent skills in philosophical research, including the location and use of library resources (LO3) and the strengthening of their skills in producing coherent, well-structured and purposeful written and oral English expression (LO4).

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment strategy for this introductory unit in philosophy is designed to facilitate broad engagement with what for many students will be a new field of study, while also making possible deeper engagement with one of the unit topics.

The first structured written task serves to examine and consolidate understanding of the selected major philosophical problems under investigation (LO1), and to build skills needed for effective communication in a philosophical context (LO4). Accordingly, students are required to describe the problem/s as such, making appropriate use of the key relevant terminology.

Including but extending beyond understanding of the philosophical problem itself (LO1), the second structured written task is designed to allow students to demonstrate achievements in the analysis of issues arising from the problem under consideration, and key debates about how best to respond to these issues. This task also examines the development of a reasoned response and coherent position on the students' part (LO2). Further, they examine and facilitate nascent skills in accessing suitable philosophical resources (LO3) and the presentation of arguments in dialogue with others (LO4).

The research essay task provides students with the opportunity to undertake further, more focused philosophical reading and research, culminating in an extended piece of writing that develops a coherent central argument. This task not only requires students to work from a sound understanding of the philosophical problem being discussed (LO1), but also to demonstrate beginning skills in philosophical analysis and the development of a coherent position of the issue under investigation (LO2). Research library skills (LO3) and communication skills (LO4) are also examined (and further developed) by this task.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning Outcomes

Structured written task

(Requires students to demonstrate an understanding of key aspects of the problem being considered and major relevant associated terms)


LO1, LO4

Structured written task two

(Requires students to develop an argumentative position on a topic discussed in class)


LO1, LO2, LO4

Research Essay

(Requires students to analyse an important philosophical issue, and argue for a coherent position)


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4

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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