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POLS322 Politics and Human Nature

Do humans have a “nature”? How do different answers to that question affect our understanding of politics, or the good life? This course is a historical survey that asks, “what does it mean to be human?” from a variety of philosophical perspectives in the Western canon of political theory. It offers a lecture and discourse-driven investigation into political ideas underlying various models of human nature to identify leading conceptions that have dominated thinking about that nature from the dawn of civilization to the present day. We will draw on political psychology, religious and cultural studies, and biological theory. The central theme of the course is the biology / culture polarity and the possibility of its reconciliation in the various theories of human nature.

A significant focus of the course is on unexamined assumptions about human nature that underpin contemporary political practice and correspondingly, how political change may be possible in these terms.

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A critical survey of ideas about human nature in ancient to contemporary political though, focusing on the West, and applications to contemporary debates and issues.

This learner-centred - rather than lecture-driven - class emphasises critical thought and communication skills as well as deep conceptual comprehension. Political philosophy students are better able to make connections across theories and fields and to apply excellent communication and analytical skills to political and ethical questions underlying everyday political issues and debates.

Paper title Politics and Human Nature
Paper code POLS322
Subject Politics
EFTS 0.1500
Points 18 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2019
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $886.35
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $3,766.35

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One 200-level POLS paper or one of CHTH 231, GEND 201, GEND 208, PHIL 221, PHIL 227, PHIL 228, PHIL 234, PSYC 204
Schedule C
Arts and Music
May not be credited together with POLS 332 passed in 2013 or Summer School 2015.
Teaching staff

To be confirmed

Louis P. Pojman. Who are we?: theories of human nature. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
A Course Reader will be available for purchase.
Course outline

View a sample course outline for POLS 322. (Students taking this paper should refer to blackboard for the current course outline)

Graduate Attributes Emphasised
Interdisciplinary perspective, Lifelong learning, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Ethics, Research, Self-motivation, Teamwork.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
Learning Outcomes
Demonstrate a critical understanding of central ideas in ancient to contemporary political thought about human nature, focusing on the West and as applied to contemporary debates and issues.

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Not offered in 2019

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system