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Human Property: Slavery, Locke, and the American Ideology


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to BA students in Philosophy, who have successfully completed their first year, and who have also completed at least 10 EC’s of the mandatory components of their second year, including Political Philosophy.


This course aims to introduce to students the political theory of slavery in its historical context with specific reference to the history of slavery in the United States. 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. The course will also consider the contemporary practices of slavery, their similarities and differences from the US model.

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;

  • the nature and contexts of contemporary slavery, its similarities and differences from the US model.

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.


The timetable is available on the BA Filosofie website

  • BA Filosofie, BA3 – BA Plus-traject and Standaardtraject

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars

Class attendance is required.

Course Load

Total course load 10 x 28 hours = 280 hours

Calculation of the course load to be announced.

Assessment method


  • Examination and interpretation of documentary material (unseen examination) (40%)

  • Assessed essay chosen from a set list of topics, 2,000 words (50%)

  • Oral presentations in class (10%)'


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests. A subtest can be graded as unsatisfactory.


To be announced.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • advertising readings;

  • exchanging information and readings, including links, uploading other relevant material.

Reading list


  • Mary Nyquist, Arbitrary Rule: Slavery, Tyranny, and the Power of Life and Death (Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press 2013).

Further readings will be made available through Blackboard.


Enrolment for courses and exams through uSis is mandatory.

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetables for courses and exams.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. N. Latif
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Not applicable.