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Political Theory

From Plato to Machiavelli to Marx, learn about the thinkers and theories shaping politics through the ages.

Political Theory

The study of political theory at Pitt focuses on ethical problems in domestic and international politics.  Using historical and problem-based approaches, we seek to understand challenges relating to concepts such as justice, authority, liberty, and equality and to contemporary phenomena such as democracy, human rights, empire and globalization. 

Our research and teaching emphasize the centrality of normative questions to politics and the importance of political theory to the study of politics.

Political Theory: the Undergraduate Level

Undergraduate majors must take at least one upper-level course in this area from among a number that are regularly offered, including courses covering the history of ancient-medieval and modern political thought, contemporary political theory, liberal and democratic theory, feminist theory, human rights, and American political thought. In addition to coursework in political theory, a departmental honors seminar in this field is offered every other year.

Political Theory: the Graduate Level

The department encourages all graduate students to acquire familiarity with the classic works of political thought and to reflect on the intellectual linkages between theory and the other subfields of the discipline. To this end, all students are required to take a core course in political theory.

Beyond this, political theory is offered as both an MA and a PhD secondary field. It comprises the history of early modern and modern political thought (Machiavelli to the present) as well as contemporary work in normative and analytic political theory, with emphasis on the philosophy of liberalism and its critics and on the theory and practice of democracy. Other areas of study that reflect joint interests of students and faculty members may also be pursued and graduate students concentrating in political theory often take seminars in Pitt’s Department of Philosophy as well.