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Human Property: Slavery, Locke, and the American Ideology


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to MA students in Philosophy.


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. They will be further expected to demonstrate the ability to provide comparative exegeses of these materials, and to give evidence of having read beyond them.

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 Timetables Philosophy 2014-2015 , Timetables MA Philosophy 60 EC/120 EC.

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 Registration for courses and examinations

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable for courses in the column under the heading “Act.nbr”.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof.dr. G.F. Newey