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The Idea of Freedom (Level 6)


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 6
  • Convenor: to be confirmed
  • Assessment: a 1500-word essay (40%) and 2000-word essay (60%)

Module description

In this module we examine the concept of political liberty. We begin by exploring each of the three major traditions of theorising freedom:

  • the ‘negative’ tradition, in which freedom is understood as the absence of physical prevention or coercion
  • the ‘republican’ tradition, in which freedom is understood as independence from dominating power
  • the ‘positive’ tradition, in which freedom is understood as realisation of the objective requirements of reason or human flourishing.

Key figures in these traditions include Hobbes, Bentham, Rousseau, Kant, Wollstonecraft, Hegel, Marx, Greene, Douglass, Beauvoir, Hayek and Friedman.

We then go on to examine the conflicting answers these traditions give to three fundamental political questions:

  • What role do the state and its laws play in the preservation or reduction of citizens’ freedom?
  • Is market capitalism fundamentally a form of liberation or of oppression?
  • How should we think about the impact of propaganda, ideology and harmful internalised norms on individual freedom?

These questions are looked at from a variety of theoretical perspectives, including those of liberalism, libertarianism, Marxism, feminism and post-colonialism.

Indicative syllabus

  • Freedom and its intellectual history
  • The idea of negative freedom
  • The idea of republican freedom
  • The idea of positive freedom
  • The idea of freedom across disparate philosophical traditions
  • Freedom and the democratic state
  • Freedom and the rule of law
  • Freedom and the free market
  • Freedom, capitalism, and colonialism
  • Freedom and internalised oppression
  • Freedom, ideology and propaganda