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Unit information: How to Win a Political Argument in 2016/17

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Unit name How to Win a Political Argument
Unit code POLI30020
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Jonathan Floyd
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


If Socrates and the Sophists had ever found grounds for compromise, almost two and a half thousand years ago, then it would look something this: A unit concerned with making you better at persuasive political argument, whilst also inviting reflections on how much the ‘truth’ matters in such things. Each week we will consider a different set of political arguments by prominent public figures (journalists, politicians, etc.) on a particular issue, such as war, discrimination, taxes, environmental degradation, migration, surveillance, and more besides. Each week we will analyse these arguments and see if general lessons can be learnt regarding the art of public political persuasion. Each week we will construct our own arguments during workshop-based seminars. Each week, as a result, we will enhance your ability to construct and deliver political arguments, in both written and verbal form, including your ability to discern when, if ever, it makes good rhetorical sense to begin four sentences in a row with the same phrase, e.g. ‘each week’.

Intended learning outcomes

On completion of this unit successful students will be able to:

  • Produce sophisticated written political arguments
  • Produce sophisticated verbal political arguments
  • Demonstrate an appreciation of the relevance of truth to persuasive political argument
  • Demonstrate an appreciation of the relevance of political argument to political practice

Teaching details

1 hour lecture and 2 hour seminar per week

Assessment Details

10 minute presentation (including slides) taking the form of a ‘political speech’ on a particular topic (25%)

2500 word essay (75%)

Both assessments assess all learning outcomes

Reading and References

  • Aristotle (1991) On Rhetoric (London: Penguin)
  • Cicero (2001) On the Ideal Orator (Oxford: Oxford University Press)
  • Tacitus, On Oratory (available here:
  • John Rawls (2005), Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press)
  • Amy Gutmann & Dennis Thompson (2004) Why Deliberative Democracy? (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press)
  • Jon Elster (ed.) (1998), Deliberative Demoracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)