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World Capitalism and its Critics (EP1)


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to students enrolled in the MA Philosophy 60, specilalisation Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE).


Since the fall of communism, it has often been argued that ‘capitalism’ has ‘won’. However, it is not clear that capitalism is a unified concept, let alone a unified practice, and it is not clear which capitalism has won nor from where it has emerged. The history of economic philosophy reveals that from very early on there was a wide range of thinking about the market and its functions.

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to this history of political economic thought, at least partially in order to reassess capitalist triumphalism. We will read and debate the ideas of the greatest writers on political economy, including Rousseau, Smith, Malthus, Ricardo, Mill, Marx, Schumpeter, Keynes and Friedman. We will use this to investigate the intellectual history of the themes and presumptions of capitalism – some of which are prominent in contemporary debates and some of which have been forgotten – such as the limits to growth, inequality, corruption, globalisation, finance, the corporation, and the role of government.

Course objectives

This course aims to provide students with a critical understanding of the intellectual history of capitalism and its discontents.

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

  • classic texts and arguments in the history of political economic thought about market society;

  • the evolution of contemporary economics from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman, including what got left out.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • critically analyse contemporary debates around capitalism from an historically informed perspective;

  • defend well-reasoned positions on the questions covered in the course in writing, and in-class discussions.


See Timetables MA Philosophy 2015-2016

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load (10 EC x 28 hrs): 280 hours

  • Attending seminars: 14 × 3 hours = 42 hours

  • Reading for class (100-150 pages per week): 158 hours

  • Mid-term essay assignment: 15 hours

  • Formal presentation: 15 hours

  • Final essay assignment: 50 hours

Assessment method

The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average of:

  • Participation (1/3 of the final grade).
    Assessed by quality and preparedness of particpation in class discussions on a scale of 1-10. Students absent more than twice will lose 0.5 from their grade for this segment for each further missed class.

  • Formal presentation (1/6 of the final grade).
    Assessed by relevance, accuracy, style, and coherence on a scale of 1-10.

  • Mid-term essay (1/6 of the final grade).
    Graded on a scale of 1-10.

  • Final essay (1/3 of the final grade).


One resit will be offered, consisting of the final essay. This requires writing an entirely new essay on a new subject. The grade will replace previously earned grades for subtests and no other components of the course may be retaken. Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination(s) cannot take the resit.

Blackboard Blackboard will be used for posting announcements and course materials.

Reading list

Course textbook:

  • Robert Heilbroner. 1999. The Worldly Philosophers (7th ed). Simon & Schuster. (Students should buy this book as early as possible. We will be using it from the start of the course.)

  • Other texts as outlined in the full syllabus.


Please register for this course via Study administration system uSis
See also Registration for lectures and tests

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

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. T.R. Wells