Political Emotions - PHIL6670

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2024 to 2025.


Emotions figure in many areas of public life, and a number of pressing political issues (from fear in the evaluation of biomedical promises, to compassion in the criminal courtroom) invite us to think about the role of emotion in shaping citizens' political thought and activity. Emotions, however, are all too rarely studied conceptually, with the result that both political theory and practice are often left at a loss. Through lectures and seminar discussion, this module will offer the opportunity for students to engage in close analysis of the philosophy and cognitive science of emotion, as well as the ethical concerns that are raised by the role emotions can play in political activity and institutional practice.

This module will study prominent theories of emotion, asking about the connection between emotion, reason, and well-being. These aspects take a philosophical approach, but are also informed by advances in neurobiology and cognitive science. The module will also explore the public stage, asking how specific emotions figure in political questions: for example, fear, disgust, compassion, blame, empathy, boredom, and revenge. Political topics considered may include risky technologies, wrongful legal conviction, capital punishment, the Citizens' Income, and assisted dying. The role of emotion in media politics and protest movements will also be examined, assessing, for example, how compassion can be manufactured and mediated through political rhetoric, social media, social privilege, and popular fiction.


Contact hours

Total Contact Hours: 40

Method of assessment

Essay 1 (1,500 words) – 30%
Essay 2 (2,000 words) – 30%
Public Philosophy Exercise (1,000 words) – 30%
Seminar Performance – 10%

Indicative reading

Indicative Reading List

Brady, M. (2013). Emotional Insight (Oxford University Press).
de Sousa, R. (2013). "Emotion", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Duff, A. (2015). "Criminal Responsibility and the Emotions: If fear and anger can exculpate, why not compassion?", Inquiry 58(2): 189-220.
Goldie, P. ed. (2010). The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Emotion (Oxford University Press).
James, W. (2018). “What is an emotion?”, The William James Reader Vol. 1.
Nussbaum, M. (2013). Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice (Harvard University Press).
Roeser, S. (2006). “The role of emotions in judging the moral acceptability of risks”, Safety Science 44(8): 689-700.

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module, students will be able to:

Recognise, understand, and evaluate the major philosophical theories of the nature of emotions;
Engage critically with some of the central issues and controversies in the subfield of political emotions, through their study of the relevant arguments (e.g., for the relation between emotion and value, emotion and wellbeing, and emotion and rationality);
Recognise and critically evaluate the influence of specific emotions in particular cases of political history, law, and/or media;
Demonstrate the ability to engage in a close critical reading of some of the major texts in the subfield of political emotions.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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