The use of research-based teaching materials in political philosophy
Submitting InstitutionUniversity College London
Unit of AssessmentPhilosophy
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Applied Ethics, Philosophy
Summary of the impact
Professor Jonathan Wolff at UCL has produced several important monographs
which are aimed at
both researchers and students, including An Introduction to Political
Philosophy (1996 and 2006)
and Ethics and Public Policy (2011). These books continue to have
great influence on the way in
which political philosophy is taught, and are widely used in schools and
adult education, as well as
within Higher Education Institutions. Curricula throughout the world are
designed around them.
Both books, but particularly An Introduction to Political Philosophy
— which exists in English and in
many translations — have had a profound effect, both in terms of adoption,
and in the response
from instructors and students.
The impacts described here arise from two major strands of research in
political and moral
philosophy conducted by Jonathan Wolff at UCL, where he has been a member
of staff since
1986. The first of these is his exploration of contemporary problems in
political philosophy drawing
on the works of the great political philosophers of the past. This gives
rise not only to a better
understanding of philosophical problems, but also to insights into how
earlier political philosophers
can be read. The fruits of this research include, for example, a reading
of Hobbes that sharply
contrasts the `actual contract' elements of his argument with his
`hypothetical contract' and
explores their contrasting strengths and weaknesses [a]; an exploration of
the limits to voluntarist
theories of political obligation and the theory of fairness [b]; a
discovery of a previously unnoticed
paradox in democracy based on the distinction between voting on
self-interested grounds and
voting on ideas of the common good [c]; and a detailed discussion of a
difficult passage in Mill on
the regulation of indecency, which is used to motivate a `progressive
indirect utilitarian' reading of
Mill's liberty principle [d].
In 1996, Wolff published An Introduction to Political Philosophy
(hereafter IPP) [e], in which much
of this earlier research is combined with fresh research and presented for
a non-expert audience.
Rather than merely summarising the seminal texts and debates about the
interpretation and merits
of the ideas and arguments of political philosophers past and present, IPP
ongoing research into those debates. Thus, clear accounts of the work of
the major political
philosophers and main questions in political philosophy are interrogated
through a series of linked
questions (beginning with `why should anyone be entitled to hold political
power?'), each of which
is addressed by drawing on Wolff's earlier work (including, but not being
limited to [a], [b], [c], [d]) to
answer questions about the nature, justification, and organisation of the
state and of citizens'
obligations, and to explore the concept of liberty and its limits. The
book also explores distributive
justice and the feminist critique of individualism.
The second strand of Wolff's research lies in applied ethics, and is
taken forward in his 2011
monograph Ethics and Public Policy (EPP) [f]. In this book the
research described above is
developed further via consideration of moral and political dilemmas of
public life, many of them
related to Wolff's work with public policy bodies or committees such as
the Gambling Review Body,
Rail Safety and Standards Board, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the
Academy of Medical
Sciences. EPP includes applications of philosophical ideas on topics such
as the regulation of
gambling, social provision for disability, the value of universal health
care, crime and the
justification of punishment, drug policy, public safety and the limits of
the free market, as well as a
methodological investigation of how moral and political philosophy can
shed light on public policy.
Much of the book is a reflection on the surprising and unwelcome discovery
that the straightforward
application of philosophical ideas to public policy will often yield
unacceptable social policies.
Nevertheless it aims to provide a model of the contribution that
philosophers can make to the
formation of ethically acceptable public policies.
References to the research
[a] Jonathan Wolff, "Hobbes and the Motivations of Social Contract
Theory", International Journal
of Philosophical Studies 1994, 2: 271-286. Peer reviewed journal.
[b] Jonathan Wolff, "Political Obligation, Fairness and Independence", Ratio
1995, 8: 87-99. Peer
reviewed journal. Google scholar citations: 19 (Oct 2013). DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9329.1995.tb00071.x.
[c] Jonathan Wolff, "Democratic Voting and the Mixed-Motivation Problem",
Analysis 1994: 193-6.
Peer reviewed journal. Google scholar citations: 10 (Oct 2013). DOI: 10.1093/analys/54.4.193.
[d] Jonathan Wolff, "Mill, Indecency and the Liberty Principle", Utilitas
1998, 10: 1—16. Peer
reviewed journal. Reprinted in Mill's Political and Legal Philosophy,
ed. C. L. Chen Ashgate 2000.
Google Scholar Citations: 9 (Oct 2013). DOI: 10.1017/S0953820800005975.
[e] Jonathan Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy,
Oxford University Press 1996 and 2006
(revised edition). Google Scholar citations: 204 (Oct 2013). Submitted to
RAE 1996; available on
[f] Jonathan Wolff, Ethics and Public Policy, Routledge 2011.
Google Scholar Citations: 19 (Oct
2013). Submitted to REF2.
Details of the impact
Research by Jonathan Wolff has had a significant influence on the design
and delivery of curricula
in the UK and beyond, particularly through the publication of the two
major research-based books
([e] and [f]) described above. Both IPP and EPP were consciously developed
to serve as useful
pedagogical resources to engage students and self-directed learners,
including those with little
prior exposure to political philosophy, while at the same time drawing on
and presenting substantial
Although An Introduction to Political Philosophy [e] was first
published in 1996, it has continued to
have a lasting and substantial impact on the development and delivery of
throughout the period of assessment. Since 2008 the average yearly sales
figures for the English
language edition alone are 5,000 and have not fallen below 3,900 per year
. The revised edition,
published in 2006, has sold over 25,000 copies since 2008: 43% in the UK,
24% in the US, 14% in
Europe, and 19% in the rest of the world. Sales regularly spike
significantly in September,
indicating that it is predominantly use for teaching . IPP is also
widely disseminated through
photocopying, and has generated more than £23,000 in photocopying
royalties since 2008; about
half from UK schools and further education colleges, a further third from
UK higher education and
the remainder from overseas .
Students of philosophy, political science and other fields have all
benefited from the research. The
reach of the books' impacts on education in these fields is
demonstrated by their use in a large
number of institutions across several countries (including China,
Bangladesh, Switzerland, the US
and Canada) , and by the diversity of their readers, who range from
school students and
undergraduates to postgraduates and adult learners. The significance
of their impact upon these
beneficiaries is suggested by the high number of modules and courses
modelled, in part or in
whole, on the books, and by the excellent feedback received from
instructors and students who
have used them. It is also demonstrated by the sheer fact that so many
courses have continued to
rely on IPP 17 years since its initial publication, and despite the
subsequent appearance of many
excellent competing texts. In spite of being less than two years in print
by July 2013, EPP has
similarly already become a core text for some courses on applied ethics.
Impacts on curricula for university students: Both books are key
texts for courses at a range of
institutions in the UK and overseas , where they have received
excellent feedback from both
students and teachers. In many cases, the courses that use them rely very
heavily indeed on the
books: at the University of Lancaster, for example, the first part of the
Politics and Governance follows IPP chapter by chapter ; the same is
true at Florida State
University, whose Introduction to Political Philosophy course (PHM 2300)
is likewise structured,
chapter by chapter, almost entirely around IPP. In Canada, the University
of Western Ontario used
IPP as the basis for a very large course, POL1020E, and set EPP for course
tutorials . In 2012—3
around 500 students were enrolled on this course, which is required for
programmes, and the course is currently being repeated in 2013—4 with a
similar enrolment .
The longevity of these courses suggests the significance of the
use of these books to them. At the
Open University, for example, extracts from IPP were used in the set book
Freedom) used for course A211 which ran for ten years until 2011
with an average student
enrolment of 700, and for AA311, half of which was organised explicitly
around IPP .
Further evidence of the significance of the text to course leaders in the
field may be found in the
feedback they provide, both directly to Wolff, and to their students,
wherein they have also cited
the significance of these books to their teaching. At Dublin City
University, for example, where IPP
is essential reading for the course LG116, the course module guide ends
with the words: "By far
the best and most accessible introduction to political philosophy. Read it
from start to finish, and
you may surprise yourself by enjoying it" .
Further global impacts: As the book sales and royalties listed
above indicate, IPP reaches a
large audience overseas. Its English language version is used in overseas
territories such as
Japan, Bangladesh, Norway and Germany, as well as the USA, Canada, and
Australia. It has been
translated into Traditional Chinese (for Taiwan and Hong Kong) Simplified
Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, Croatian, Lithuanian, Mongolian, and
Persian (an unauthorised
translation for the Iranian market) .
An example of its international use comes from China where IPP is a
widely used book on political
philosophy. For example, on DangDang.com, the largest book retailer in the
country, the Chinese
edition received 180 reviews between its publication in 2009 and July
2013, 99.4% of which
awarded the book at least 4 of a maximum 5 stars . The newly
established Asian University for
Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh, likewise structured its introductory
course on Political
Philosophy (first taught in 2012) around IPP, which was also the assigned
primary text .
At a more anecdotal level Wolff has, over the years, received many
unsolicited emails about the
book from university and school students, members of the public and
teachers, commending it as a
compelling and accessible exploration of research. As a Jordanian
undergraduate at the Ludwig
Maximilian University of Munich explained: 'It's really one of the very
few books that actually get
the ideas across so easily, without having to over-complicate things.' (24
April 2012) . This
accessible but comprehensive presentation of Wolff's research findings
allows the book's wide-ranging
readership to engage meaningfully — often for the first time — with key
tenets of Western
Impacts on learning outside the university: The reach of the
educational impacts of IPP and
EPP extends even beyond its very significant contributions to curricula at
institutions (HEI) internationally. These wider impacts are delivered
particularly through its use as
the basis for less traditional higher education learning resources, which
allow a broader cross-
section of both UK and international communities to engage with political
undergraduate level. At a local level, for example, The University of the
Third Age (U3A) in Poole
organised a reading group for mature students using EPP in 2012; the group
was so successful
that it was recommended to other U3A groups . Rather wider,
international benefits accrued
from Wolff being contracted in April 2006 to write an online module for
the Oxford University
Extension Course, which follows IPP chapter by chapter. The course ran 11
times between 2009
and 2013, and was taken by approximately 320 students internationally
The books have, moreover, introduced political philosophy to new, young
school students. Both IPP and EPP are designed to enable students to
engage with questions of
philosophy and consider their applications to issues or debates relevant
to their own daily
experience. This makes the two books particularly well suited for
non-traditional learners, and even
for GCE students. Alongside the reader Political Thought (also
co-edited by Wolff), IPP is the only
work of political philosophy listed in the Teacher Resource Bank for GCE
Philosophy published by
AQA, the UK's largest provider of academic qualifications for 14-19 year
olds. In 2013, 2,491
students took the Philosophy A level and 5,129 the AS level .
Sources to corroborate the impact
 Sales figures, information about seasonal sales trends and evidence
of translations of IPP have
been provided to UCL by OUP; a copy is available on request.
 Royalty statements (in addition to a spreadsheet showing the
breakdown of photocopying by
category) been provided by ALCS; a copy is available on request.
 In addition to the indicative examples provided below, a portfolio of
several courses reliant on
IPP and EPP at various national and international HEIs is available on
 For the heavy use of IPP as the basis for the University of
Lancaster's Understanding Politics
and Governance Part I course, see p. 10 of the 2012 Course Handbook,
available on request.
 For use of IPP as a core text and EPP as the basis for tutorial
topics in Western Ontario course
POL1020E, see 2012 course guide (available on request). Enrolment figures
provided by the
 A copy of a statement provided by the Open University about the
content, duration and
enrolment figures for its courses A211 and AA311 is available on request.
 For endorsement of IPP as an undergraduate learning resource see p.
10 of the Dublin City
University course LG116 module guide. Available on request.
 Positive reviews of IPP provided by Chinese readers may be viewed on
sales page — printout, translation and analysis available on request.
 Copy of the email from a Ludwig Maximilian University student
(received 24 April 2012),
endorsing IPP's utility and accessibility, is available on request. Many
statements are also available on request.
 A copy of a statement provided by the U3A Poole course leader about
the reading group set
up in 2012 for mature students using EPP is available on request.
 Oxford University Extension Course page:
provided in an email from the course leader; available on request.
 For the inclusion of IPP in the AQA Teacher Resource Bank for GCE
Philosophy (see p. 1)
available at: http://bit.ly/18StmF6.
AQA student statistics for June 2013: available on request.