Moral Foundations of Politics Course Reviews

The Moral Foundations of Politics course on Coursera, taught by Ian Shapiro, explores the intersection of political philosophy and moral reasoning.

Moral Foundations of Politics Course Reviews
Moral Foundations of Politics Course Reviews

The course aims to deepen students' understanding of how political institutions and policies are shaped by fundamental moral values and principles.

The course is divided into eight modules, each covering a different aspect of the relationship between morality and politics. Topics include the nature of political authority, the role of the state in promoting justice and welfare, and the ethical implications of political conflict.

Throughout the course, students are introduced to key concepts and theories from both historical and contemporary political philosophy. They are encouraged to engage critically with these ideas and apply them to real-world political issues.

Assessments include quizzes and written assignments, and students are expected to actively participate in online discussions with their peers.

Overall, the Moral Foundations of Politics course provides a comprehensive introduction to the moral dimensions of political life, and is suitable for anyone with an interest in politics, philosophy, or ethics.

Course Content:

When do governments deserve our allegiance, and when should they be denied it?

This course explores the main answers that have been given to this question in the modern West. We start with a survey of the major political theories of the Enlightenment: Utilitarianism, Marxism, and the social contract tradition. In each case, we begin with a look at classical formulations, locating them in historical context, but then shift to the contemporary debates as they relate to politics today.

Next, we turn to the rejection of Enlightenment political thinking, again exploring both classical and contemporary formulations. The last part of the course deals with the nature of, and justifications for, democratic politics, and their relations to Enlightenment and Anti-Enlightenment political thinking.

In addition to exploring theoretical differences among the various authors discussed, considerable attention is devoted to the practical implications of their competing arguments. To this end, we discuss a variety of concrete problems, including debates about economic inequality, affirmative action and the distribution of health care, the limits of state power in the regulation of speech and religion, and difficulties raised by the emerging threat of global environmental decay.

The Moral Foundations of Politics course taught by Ian Shapiro on Coursera consists of 8 weeks, each containing multiple lectures. The weeks of the course include:

Week 1: Welcome to Moral Foundations of Politics



3 videos (Total 22 min), 3 readings

3 videos

Welcome to Moral Foundations of Politics! 1m

The Shape of the Course 6m

Expectations 14m

3 readings

Course Overview 3m

Meet Your Instructor 3m

Readings 3m


Week 2: Enlightenment Political Theory



5 videos (Total 75 min), 4 readings, 1 quiz

5 videos

The Eichmann Case and Problem of Illegal but Legitimate Acts 12m

The Paradox of Discomfort and the Organization of the Course 14m

Politics in the Enlightenment 13m

Early vs. Mature Enlightenments 15m

The Workmanship Ideal 19m

4 readings

Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem, pg. 21-55, 135-149 40m

Locke, First Treatise 30m

Locke, Second Treatise 20m

Hobbes Lessons for the Professors of Mathematics 10m

1 practice exercise

Mini Quiz - Enlightenment Political Theory 30m


Week 3: Utilitarianism: Classical and Neoclassical



16 videos (Total 285 min), 4 readings, 1 quiz

16 videos

Elements of Utilitarianism 10m

The Theory of Classical Utilitarianism 23m

The Utility Monster and the Principle of Diminishing Marginal Utility 10m

The Panopticon and Bentham on Government 7m

Distribution and Diminishing Marginal Utility 17m

Bentham on Equality and Rights 13m

Neoclassical Utilitarianism: The Philosophical Context Beginning 19m

Neoclassical Utilitarianism: The Economic Context 17m

Ideological Stakes of the Transition from Classical to Neoclassical Utilitarianism 9m

Introduction and the Harm Principle 17m

Bentham, Mill, and The Rights-Utility Synthesis 14m

The Harm Principle in Practice 10m

The Harm Principle and the Spectrum of Harm 18m

Harm Examples 12m

Is the Harm Principle Conservative? 12m

Office Hours1 1h9m

4 readings

Bentham, Intro to Morals and Legislation 10m

Bentham in W. Stark, Jeremy Bentham's Economic Writings,442 25m

Mill, On Liberty, Chs.1-2 1h

Mill, On Liberty Ch.5 30m

1 practice exercise

Utilitarianism: Classical and Neoclassical 30m


Week 4: Marxism, Its Failures and Its Legacy



10 videos (Total 198 min), 5 readings, 1 quiz

10 videos

Marx Introduction 8m

Marx as an Enlightenment Thinker 15m

Marx's Challenge to Classical Political Economy 20m

The Working Class 12m

Exploitation - The Micro Story 14m

Exploitation - The Macro Story and the Theory of Crisis 24m

Marx's Overall Failures 14m

Failures in the Macro Theory 15m

Rethinking the Labor Theory of Value 22m

Office Hours2 49m

5 readings

Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party 1h10m

Marx, Capital (Vol. I), Prefaces, Chs. I, IV, VI, XII, XVI (excerpts) 45m

Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program 45m

Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, Ch. XVII (Sections 8-11, 14) 50m

Roemer, "Should Marxists be interested in exploitation?" Analytical Marxism 10m

1 practice exercise

Marxism, Its Failures and Its Legacy 30m


Week 5: The Social Contract Tradition I


13 videos (Total 182 min), 8 readings, 1 quiz

13 videos

Consent and Thomas Hobbes 12m

John Locke and the Workmanship Ideal 10m

Locke on Consent 16m

Immanuel Kant's Ethics 13m

John Rawls Introduction 10m

John Rawls's Enduring Innovations 19m

The Veil of Ignorance 7m

Principles of Justice 21m

The Difference Principle 17m

Problems with Rawls 9m

Political Not Metaphysical 8m

Political Disagreement 18m

The Overlapping Consensus 15m

8 readings

Hobbes, Leviathan, Introduction, Chs. 13-17, 21 1h10m

Locke, Second Treatise of Government, Chs.2-5 45m

Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals 2h

Rawls, A Theory of Justices, pg. 3-19, 52-56 (Sections 1-4, 11) 10m

Rawls, "Social Unity and Primary Goods," sect. IV, V in John Rawls: Collected Papers 10m

Rawls, A Theory of Justice, pg. 102-109, 118-123, 153-160, 221-227 (Sections 20, 21, 24, 29, 40) 10m

Rawls, "Justice as fairness: political not metaphysical." Philosophy & Public Affairs 14 (1985): 226-48 (Sections 2-6) 10m

Shapiro, "Resources, Capacities, and Ownership." Political Theory 19.1 (February 1991), 47-72 10m

1 practice exercise

The Social Contract TraditionI 30m


Week 6: The Social Contract Tradition II



10 videos (Total 168 min), 3 readings, 1 quiz

10 videos

Introduction to Nozick 9m

Features of Nozick's Account 5m

The Invisible Hand Evolution of the State 27m

Necessity and Obligation 12m

Incorporating Independents 9m

Compensation 14m

Liberty Upsets Patterns 12m

Markets and Power 10m

It is Unjust for Chamberlain to Make So Much Money 13m

Office Hours3 51m

3 readings

Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, pp. 3-17, 26-35 (Chs. 1-3) 10m

Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, pp. 54-63, 78-84, 88-90, 108-119 (Excerpts from Ch. 4, 5) 10m

Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State and Utopia, pp. 149-164, 174-182 (Excerpts from Ch. 7) 10m

1 practice exercise

The Social Contract Tradition 30m


Week 7: Anti-Enlightenment Politics



8 videos (Total 137 min), 4 readings, 1 quiz

8 videos

Burke's Conservatism 23m

Devlin's Conservatism 16m

ntroduction to MacIntyre 13m

Emotivist Culture 16m

Practices 13m

Failure of the Enlightenment Project 14m

Concluding Anti-Enlightenment Thought 13m

Office Hours4 25m

4 readings

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (excerpts) 2h

Patrick Devlin, "Morals and the Criminal Law" 10m

Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, Chs.1-3 10m

Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, Chs.5 10m

1 practice exercise

Anti-Enlightenment Politics 30m


Week 8: Democracy



13 videos (Total 201 min), 13 readings, 1 quiz

13 videos

Democracy and its Critics 18m

The Federalist Papers 17m

The Republican Tradition 8m

Discovering the General Will 11m

Habermas' Deliberative Ideal 13m

Deliberation in the Real World 15m

The Westminster System in Practice 7m

The Majority Rule 11m

Competition and Democracy 13m

Electoral Systems 12m

Reviewing the Enlightenment 15m

Democracy and Human Freedom 18m

Office Hours5 37m

13 readings

Hamilton, Jay, and Madison, The Federalist Papers, Paper No. 1, 9, 10, 14, 39, 48, 51, 62, 70, 78 2h

Jean-Jaques Rousseau, The Social Contract and the First and Second Discourses, Book I Ch. 6-7, Book II Ch.3 15m

William H. Riker, Ch. 5, "The Meaning of Social Choice" in Liberalism against Populism, pp.115-23 10m

Jürgen Habermas, "Three Normative Models of Democracy" 10m

James Fishkin, "Deliberative Polling: Toward a Better-Informed Democracy" 10m

Locke, Second Treatise of Government, Chs.17-19 10m

Joseph Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, Ch. XXI and XXII 10m

Buchanan and Tullock, The Calculus of Consent, excerpt from Ch.6 10m

Shapiro, "John Locke's Democratic Theory," in Locke's Two Treatises of Government, pp.309-332 40m

Douglas Rae, "The Limits of Consensual Decision" 10m

Shapiro, "Elements of Democractic Justice." Political Theory 10m

Post-Course Survey10mProfessor Shapiro's Letter to Students 10m

1 practice exercise

Democracy 30m




As a former student of Ian Shapiro's Moral Foundations of Politics course on Coursera, I can confidently say that it was a truly valuable learning experience. The course provided an in-depth exploration of the moral and ethical foundations of politics, and challenged me to think critically about the complex relationship between these two areas of study.

One of the things I appreciated most about the course was the high-quality lectures. Shapiro is an excellent teacher and communicator, and his lectures are well-organized, clear, and engaging. The course also includes a variety of supplementary materials, such as readings and discussion forums, which further enriched my learning experience.

The assignments in the course were challenging but rewarding. They required me to apply the concepts I had learned to real-world political issues, which helped me to better understand the relevance and importance of political theory in our everyday lives. The feedback provided by the instructors was also very helpful in improving my critical thinking and analytical skills.

Another strength of the course was the sense of community that it fostered. The discussion forums allowed me to connect with other learners from around the world, and to engage in meaningful conversations about the course material. This not only made the course more enjoyable, but also helped me to see different perspectives and to broaden my understanding of the topics covered.

Overall, I would highly recommend Ian Shapiro's Moral Foundations of Politics course to anyone interested in political theory or the relationship between ethics and politics. It is a challenging but rewarding course that provides a solid foundation for further study in the field.

At the time, the course has an average rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars on over 5,335 ratings.

What you'll learn:

After completing the Moral Foundations of Politics course by Ian Shapiro on Coursera, students can expect to gain a number of valuable skills and knowledge, including:

  1. Critical thinking: The course is designed to help students develop their critical thinking skills through examining complex moral and political issues from multiple perspectives. Students are encouraged to engage with differing viewpoints and to analyze arguments, evidence, and assumptions in order to arrive at well-supported conclusions. Throughout the course, students are challenged to think critically about political theories and their real-world implications, and to develop their ability to assess the strengths and weaknesses of various arguments.

  2. Moral reasoning: The course focuses on exploring the moral foundations of politics, and as such, students will have the opportunity to develop their moral reasoning skills. Through studying the ethical dimensions of political issues, students will learn to identify and evaluate competing moral claims, to articulate their own moral values and beliefs, and to recognize the ways in which different moral frameworks shape political discourse.

  3. Writing skills: The course includes several writing assignments that are designed to help students develop their writing skills. These assignments require students to articulate complex ideas and arguments in a clear and concise manner, to provide evidence and support for their claims, and to engage with primary and secondary sources. Through these assignments, students will learn to write persuasively, to organize their thoughts effectively, and to communicate their ideas to a broad audience.

  4. Research skills: The course requires students to engage with primary sources and to conduct research on various political issues. Through this process, students will learn to evaluate sources, to identify credible information, and to analyze and interpret data. They will also develop their skills in synthesizing information from multiple sources and in presenting research findings in a clear and coherent manner.

  5. Communication skills: The course is designed to foster communication skills through online discussions and debates. Students will have the opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue with their peers, to practice expressing their ideas clearly and persuasively, and to develop their ability to listen actively and respond thoughtfully to others' perspectives. These skills are valuable in a range of academic and professional contexts, and will serve students well in any future endeavors.


Ian Shapiro is a prominent political scientist who is currently the Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Yale in 1987, and has since become a leading expert in the areas of democratic theory, political institutions, and the history of political thought.

In addition to his academic work, Shapiro has been actively involved in public policy, serving as an advisor to various government agencies and nonprofit organizations. He has also authored or co-authored several books, including "The State of Democratic Theory" and "Democracy's Place", which have been widely influential in the field of political science.

Shapiro is known for his interdisciplinary approach to political science, drawing on insights from philosophy, economics, and law to shed light on complex political issues. His work is characterized by a commitment to rigorous empirical analysis, as well as a concern for normative questions of justice and democracy.

Overall, Shapiro's expertise and scholarship have made him a respected voice in the field of political science. His work has contributed significantly to our understanding of political institutions, democratic theory, and the relationship between ethics and politics.


The Moral Foundations of Politics course by Ian Shapiro on Coursera has the following detailed requirements:

  1. Access to a computer with an internet connection: As an online course, students will need access to a reliable computer with a stable internet connection to access course materials, participate in discussions, and submit assignments.

  2. Time commitment: While the course is self-paced, students should plan to spend around 4-6 hours per week on coursework. This includes watching lectures, completing readings, participating in discussions, and completing assignments.

  3. Basic familiarity with political concepts: Although no prior knowledge of political theory or philosophy is required, students should have a basic understanding of political concepts such as democracy, justice, and equality.

  4. English language proficiency: All course materials and discussions are in English, so students should have a strong command of the English language to fully engage with the course content.

  5. Open-mindedness: The course explores a range of moral and political perspectives, so students should be open to engaging with ideas that may challenge their preconceptions or beliefs.

  6. Willingness to engage in discussions: Students are encouraged to participate in the course's online discussion forums, where they can engage with other students and share their perspectives on course topics.

  7. Completion of assignments: Throughout the course, students will be required to complete assignments, including quizzes and essays, to demonstrate their understanding of the course material.

Overall, these requirements are designed to ensure that students are able to fully engage with the course material and develop their understanding of the moral foundations of politics. By meeting these requirements, students will be well-prepared to succeed in the course and to apply their newfound knowledge to real-world political issues.

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