Skip to main content
Unit of study_

PHIL2635: Contemporary Political Philosophy

Semester 1, 2023 [Normal day] - Camperdown/Darlington, Sydney

This unit offers a critical introduction to the major schools of thought in contemporary political philosophy. The unit covers the traditional problem of political authority and legitimacy, the nature of political values, the relationship between social institutions such as marriage and the family and the political life of a community, and the justification for democratic institutions. The inclusive ambitions of liberal political theory will be confronted with objections from thinkers motivated by concern with various aspects of social and political exclusion based on categories such as citizenship status, gender, cultural difference, and race.

Unit details and rules

Unit code PHIL2635
Academic unit Philosophy
Credit points 6
PHIL2535 or PHIL3535
12 credit points at 1000 level from any combination of Philosophy, Government, International Relations, Politics
Assumed knowledge


Available to study abroad and exchange students


Teaching staff

Coordinator Ryan Cox,
Lecturer(s) Ryan Cox,
Tutor(s) Ryan Cox,
Type Description Weight Due Length
Presentation Tutorial Paper
A short tutorial paper presented in your tutorial.
10% Multiple weeks 1x500wd
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3 LO2
Participation Participation
A participation grade based on participation in lectures and tutorials.
10% Ongoing All semester
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO3 LO2
Assignment Essay
An essay on a topic from the first part of the course.
40% Week 08
Due date: 17 Apr 2023 at 23:59
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3
Assignment Essay
An essay on a topic from the second part of the course.
40% Week 13
Due date: 26 May 2023 at 23:59
Outcomes assessed: LO1 LO2 LO3

Assessment summary

Assessment for this unit consists of two essays, a tutorial paper, and participation.

  • The first essay will be written on a topic from the first part of the unit and will be due a little over halfway though the course.
  • The second essay will be written on a topic from the second part of the course and will be due at the end of the course.
  • The tutorial paper will be related to planning for the second essay.
  • A participation grade will be determined on the basis of participation in lectures, tutorials, and the Canvas discussion board.

Detailed information for each assessment can be found on Canvas

Assessment criteria

The University awards common result grades, set out in the Coursework Policy 2014 (Schedule 1).

As a general guide, a High distinction indicates work of an exceptional standard, a Distinction a very high standard, a credit a good standard, and a pass an acceptable standard.

Result name

Mark range


High distinction

85 - 100



75 - 84



65 - 74



50 - 64



0 - 49

When you don’t meet the learning outcomes of the unit to a satisfactory standard.

For more information see

For more information see guide to grades.

Late submission

In accordance with University policy, these penalties apply when written work is submitted after 11:59pm on the due date:

  • Deduction of 5% of the maximum mark for each calendar day after the due date.
  • After ten calendar days late, a mark of zero will be awarded.

Academic integrity

The Current Student website  provides information on academic integrity and the resources available to all students. The University expects students and staff to act ethically and honestly and will treat all allegations of academic integrity breaches seriously.  

We use similarity detection software to detect potential instances of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breach. If such matches indicate evidence of plagiarism or other forms of academic integrity breaches, your teacher is required to report your work for further investigation.

You may only use artificial intelligence and writing assistance tools in assessment tasks if you are permitted to by your unit coordinator, and if you do use them, you must also acknowledge this in your work, either in a footnote or an acknowledgement section.

Studiosity is permitted for postgraduate units unless otherwise indicated by the unit coordinator. The use of this service must be acknowledged in your submission.

Simple extensions

If you encounter a problem submitting your work on time, you may be able to apply for an extension of five calendar days through a simple extension.  The application process will be different depending on the type of assessment and extensions cannot be granted for some assessment types like exams.

Special consideration

If exceptional circumstances mean you can’t complete an assessment, you need consideration for a longer period of time, or if you have essential commitments which impact your performance in an assessment, you may be eligible for special consideration or special arrangements.

Special consideration applications will not be affected by a simple extension application.

Using AI responsibly

Co-created with students, AI in Education includes lots of helpful examples of how students use generative AI tools to support their learning. It explains how generative AI works, the different tools available and how to use them responsibly and productively.

WK Topic Learning activity Learning outcomes
Week 01 What is Political Philosophy? Lecture (2 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 02 The Common Good and Utilitarianism Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 03 Rawlsian Contractarianism Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 04 Libertarianism and Egalitarianism Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 05 Contemporary Egalitarianism Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 06 Legitimating Political Power and Authority Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 07 Which democracy? Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 08 Why democracy? Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 09 Educational Justice Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 10 Challenges to Liberalism Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 11 Borders and Justice Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 12 The Ethics of Capitalism and Socialism Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3
Week 13 Indigenous Rights Lecture and tutorial (3 hr) LO1 LO2 LO3

Attendance and class requirements

  • Attendance: According to Faculty Board Resolutions, students in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences are expected to attend 90% of their classes. If you attend less than 50% of classes, regardless of the reasons, you may be referred to the Examiner’s Board. The Examiner’s Board will decide whether you should pass or fail the unit of study if your attendance falls below this threshold.
  • Lecture recording: Most lectures (in recording-equipped venues) will be recorded and may be made available to students on the LMS. However, you should not rely on lecture recording to substitute your classroom learning experience.
  • Preparation: Students should commit to spend approximately three hours’ preparation time (reading, studying, homework, essays, etc.) for every hour of scheduled instruction.

Study commitment

Typically, there is a minimum expectation of 1.5-2 hours of student effort per week per credit point for units of study offered over a full semester. For a 6 credit point unit, this equates to roughly 120-150 hours of student effort in total.

Required readings

The following required readings will all be included in a paper reader for this unit. Recommended and further reading will be provided on Canvas and through the Library's reading list system, Leganto.

  • Simmons Political Philosophy. Ch. 1 “Morals and Politics”
  • Bird An Introduction to Political Philosophy. Chs. 2–4
  • Rawls “On Justice and Fairness”. Selections from Rawls A Theory of Justice. In Clayton and Williams Social Justice. (Ch. 3)
  • Nozick “An Entitlement Theory”. Selections from Nozick Anarchy, State and Utopia. In Clayton and Williams Social Justice. (Ch. 4)
  • Arneson “Equality and Equal Opportunity for Welfare.”
  • Anderson “Against Luck Egalitarianism: What is the Point of Equality”. Selections from Anderson “What Is the Point of Equality?”. In Clayton and Williams Social Justice. (Ch. 7)
  • Simmons “Justification and Legitimacy.”
  • Gutmann “Democracy.”
  • Gutmann and Thompson Why Deliberative Democracy? Ch. 1
  • Kolodny “Rule over None I.”
  • Brighouse and Swift “The Place of Educational Equality in Educational Justice.”
  • Hampton “Liberalism, Communitarianism, and Postliberal Theory.”
  • Okin “Political Liberalism, Justice, and Gender.”
  • Ferracioli “Liberal Self-Determination, Discrimination, and the Right to Exclude.”
  • Halliday and Thrasher The Ethics of Capitalism. Chs. 4&5
  • Satz Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale. Ch. 4
  • Waldron “Superseding Historic Injustice.”
  • Ivison Can Liberal States Accommodate Indigenous Peoples? Preface & Ch. 1

Learning outcomes are what students know, understand and are able to do on completion of a unit of study. They are aligned with the University's graduate qualities and are assessed as part of the curriculum.

At the completion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • LO1. demonstrate and understanding of the central concepts of normative political theory including legitimacy, justice, equality, liberty, and democracy
  • LO2. apply the central concepts of normative political theory to contemporary political issues including gender equality, markets, immigration and borders, educational justice, and indigenous rights.
  • LO3. demonstrate a capacity for independent and critical thinking on both theoretical and applied issues in normative philosophy philosophy

Graduate qualities

The graduate qualities are the qualities and skills that all University of Sydney graduates must demonstrate on successful completion of an award course. As a future Sydney graduate, the set of qualities have been designed to equip you for the contemporary world.

GQ1 Depth of disciplinary expertise

Deep disciplinary expertise is the ability to integrate and rigorously apply knowledge, understanding and skills of a recognised discipline defined by scholarly activity, as well as familiarity with evolving practice of the discipline.

GQ2 Critical thinking and problem solving

Critical thinking and problem solving are the questioning of ideas, evidence and assumptions in order to propose and evaluate hypotheses or alternative arguments before formulating a conclusion or a solution to an identified problem.

GQ3 Oral and written communication

Effective communication, in both oral and written form, is the clear exchange of meaning in a manner that is appropriate to audience and context.

GQ4 Information and digital literacy

Information and digital literacy is the ability to locate, interpret, evaluate, manage, adapt, integrate, create and convey information using appropriate resources, tools and strategies.

GQ5 Inventiveness

Generating novel ideas and solutions.

GQ6 Cultural competence

Cultural Competence is the ability to actively, ethically, respectfully, and successfully engage across and between cultures. In the Australian context, this includes and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, knowledge systems, and a mature understanding of contemporary issues.

GQ7 Interdisciplinary effectiveness

Interdisciplinary effectiveness is the integration and synthesis of multiple viewpoints and practices, working effectively across disciplinary boundaries.

GQ8 Integrated professional, ethical, and personal identity

An integrated professional, ethical and personal identity is understanding the interaction between one’s personal and professional selves in an ethical context.

GQ9 Influence

Engaging others in a process, idea or vision.

Outcome map

Learning outcomes Graduate qualities

This section outlines changes made to this unit following staff and student reviews.

No significant changes have been made since this unit was last offered

Additional costs

Students are required to purchase a paper reader for this unit.


The University reserves the right to amend units of study or no longer offer certain units, including where there are low enrolment numbers.

To help you understand common terms that we use at the University, we offer an online glossary.