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Human Property: Slavery, Locke, and the American Ideology


Admission requirements

  • Students in the BA programme Philosophy: first year has been successfully completed.

  • Prerequisites for students from other departments (including contractstudenten): first year BA has been successfully completed as well as the following course in philosophy: History of Modern Political Philosophy.

This course has a limited number of places available for students from other departments.


This course aims to introduce to students the political theory of slavery in its historical context. Using both classic texts and a range of other documentary material, this course aims to go beyond moral judgements about slavery to answer the question: why did so many political thinkers and philosophers, from classical times onwards, believe that slavery could be justified? Students will practise the written and oral presentation of arguments examining the justifications in question.

Course objectives

Students should be able to reproduce and evaluate the main arguments of the texts and documents examined in the course.

Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • historical justifications of slavery;

  • the political philosophy of Locke;

  • the role of slavery in the ideology of the American revolution;

  • historical theories of property acquisition and transfer;

  • the background to the American civil war.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • interpret and contextualise key documents in the history of justifications of slavery;

  • reprise and evaluate core arguments given for and against slavery by historical thinkers;

  • précis and explain central features of Locke’s political theory and philosophy, particularly as regards his justification of slavery;

  • understand the linkage between slavery and property, notably as it played a role in the foundation of the American republic, and subsequent US history.


See Collegeroosters Wijsbegeerte 2014-2015, BA Wijsbegeerte (BA Plus-traject or Standaardtraject), derde jaar.
See Timetables Philosophy 2014-2015 , Timetable Undergraduate Courses in English

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures and seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

To be announced.

Assessment method

  • Examination and interpretation of documentary material (unseen examination) (30%)

  • Assessed essay chosen from a set list of topics, 2,000 words (60%)

  • Oral presentations in class (10%)


Blackboard will be used as an online discussion forum, and for posting of the course reading list, course assignments, selected readings and online links.

Reading list

Required literature will be made available on Blackboard.


Please register for this course on uSis.
See Inschrijven voor cursussen en tentamens
See Registration for courses and examinations

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the collegerooster in the column under the heading “”.

Exchange students and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs
Registration Studeren à la carte: not applicable


Prof.dr. G.F. Newey