You are viewing information for England.  Change country.

Issues in contemporary social and political philosophy

Building on the philosophy postgraduate foundation module, this module explores issues with a significance that extends far beyond the boundaries of academic philosophy. You’ll look at distributive justice, liberalism versus communitarianism and the metaphysics of social explanation – and go on to examine citizenship, nationalism, punishment and democracy in the light of these themes. You’ll develop your ability to analyse philosophical texts; reflect on the process of philosophical research; and hone your skills in finding and using material. You’ll also be required to show greater independence of thought and the ability to put across a coherent case for a philosophical position.


A851 is a compulsory module in our:

A851 is an optional module in our:

If you leave the programme before obtaining a masters degree and have successfully completed an additional 60 credits from specified modules, including at least 30 credits from postgraduate foundation modules, you can qualify for a Postgraduate Diploma.

Some postgraduate qualifications allow study to be chosen from other subject areas. We advise you to refer to the relevant qualification descriptions for information on the circumstances in which this module can count towards these qualifications because from time to time the structure and requirements may change.


Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
Find out more in Why the OU?
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

Request your prospectus

Explore our subjects and courses.

Request your copy today

What you will study

This philosophy subject module in the MA in Humanities programme develops the skills introduced in the philosophy postgraduate foundation module. We have selected the area of contemporary social and political philosophy both for its intrinsic philosophical interest and for its relationship to issues outside academic philosophy. A851 consists of a set of readings accompanied by commentary. The areas covered by the readings are:

  • The philosophy of social explanation
  • Distributive justice
  • Liberalism and communitarianism
  • Citizenship
  • Nationalism
  • Democracy
  • Punishment

You will study the first three topics in detail, and then choose one (or more) of the other four in which to focus on in your final project. For your project you will be expected to discuss problems related to your selected topic, in the light of your study of the first three themes.

Like the foundation module, this module makes extensive use of information technology. Tutorials are online, and support is provided by online forums and the extensive online resources of The Open University library. You will have opportunities to discuss the module with your tutor and your fellow students via online forums. Extensive technical backup is available, so there should be no problems even for those whose experience of using computers is limited. You need only have access to a computer, not to own one.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. The module will be taught by means of real time online tutorials and online forums. We may be able to offer opportunities to attend research day conferences in the subject area that you are encouraged, but not obliged to attend.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

Course work includes

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in February 2016. We expect it to be available at the same time once a year.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Entry requirements

To take this module, you must declare the MA in Philosophy (F30) (or another qualification towards which this module can count) as your qualification intention. You should also have taken one of the MA in Humanities postgraduate foundation modules (or you could take one at the same time as this module, though we would not normally recommend that). If you wish to gain the MA in Philosophy you will need to take the the Postgraduate foundation module in philosophy (A850). If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

We recommend reading one or more of:

Will Kymlicka (2001) Contemporary Political Philosophy, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press

Stephen Mulhall, Adam Swift (2000) Liberals and Communitarians, 2nd edition, Blackwell

Robert Goodin, Philip Pettit (eds) (1997) Contemporary Political Philosophy, Blackwell

The MA website gives information about the topics in the module and suggests further readings.


Start End England fee Register
06 Feb 2016 Oct 2016 £1840.00

Registration closes 18/12/15 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in February 2017.

Additional costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

Ways to pay

We know there’s a lot to think about when choosing to study, not least how much it’s going to cost and how you can pay.

That’s why we keep our fees as low as possible and offer a range of flexible payment and funding options. To find out more see Fees and funding.

Study materials

What's included

Module books and other printed materials.

D. C. Matravers, J. E. Pike (eds) (2002) Debates in Contemporary Political Philosophy, Routledge.

There are real time online tutorials, and further support is provided by online forums and the extensive online resources of The Open University library.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as the study materials and activities are accessible via a web browser. Any other computer-based activities you will need to carry out, such as word processing, using spreadsheets, taking part in online forums, and submitting files to the university for assessment, are specified in the module materials. If any additional software is needed for these tasks it will either be provided or is freely available.

We recommend either of the following:

  • Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system
  • Macintosh desktop or laptop computer running OS X 10.7 or later operating system.

A netbook, tablet, smartphone or Linux computer that supports one of the browsers listed below may be suitable. The screen size should be at least 1024 (H) x 768 (W) pixels. If you intend to use one of these devices please ensure you have access to a suitable desktop or laptop computer in case you are unable to carry out all the module activities on your mobile device.

We recommend a minimum 1 Mbps internet connection and any of the following browsers:

  • Internet Explorer 9 and above
  • Apple Safari 7 and above
  • Google Chrome 31 and above
  • Mozilla Firefox 31 and above.

Note: using the latest version for your browser will maximise security when accessing the internet. Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.

See our Skills for OU study website for further information about computing skills for study and educational deals for buying Microsoft Office software.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Simon, R.J. (ed) The Blackwell Guide to Social and Political Philosophy Wiley-Blackwell £31.99 - ISBN 9780631221272
  • Rawls, J. A Theory of Justice (1999 Revised edn) Harvard University Press £16.95 - ISBN 9780674000780

If you have a disability

This module makes extensive use of the internet and online forums, so you may need to spend considerable amounts of time using a personal computer. The study materials are available in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. Alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.