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Classical Readings


Admission requirements

Admission to this course is restricted to first-year BA students in Philosophy, who are enrolled in the BA Plus-traject.


Published in 1859, John Stuart Mill's On Liberty provides one of the most celebrated defences of individual liberty ever written. Of utmost relevance to this day, this influential book contains powerful (and at times controversial) views about what a free society owes its members. During this course, we will read Mill on his "very simple" harm principle, on free speech and thought, the limits of state authority, the importance of individuality, the subjection of women, and socialism. This seminar aims to use this elegant masterpiece of philosophy and political thought to practice basic philosophical skills: reading a classical text, discovering and discussing its central arguments, and writing a philosophical analysis of the text.

Course objectives

This course aims to form students to a detailed, analytical close reading of a primary text of modern philosophy. Students also learn to use secondary sources and libraries.
Students who successfully complete the course will have a good understanding of:

  • The main ideas of Mill's On Liberty & Other Writings.

  • The method of reading classical texts of philosophy.

Students who successfully complete the course will be able to:

  • Work on a classical philosophical text.

  • Present and discuss the arguments elaborated by the text.

  • Write a short philosophical essay developing a personal question related to a classical text.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminars
    Class attendance is required.

Assessment method


  • Final essay

  • Mid-term take-home exercise

  • In-class presentation

  • Presence and Participation


  • Final essay (65%)

  • Mid-term take-home exercise (15%).

  • In-class presentation (10%).

  • Presence and Participation (10%).


Papers that fail will need to be rewritten in line with instructor’s comments.

Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination cannot take the resit.

Inspection and feedback

Discussion of the paper is by appointment after publication of the final grade.

Reading list

The best book for this course is 'J. S. Mill: 'On Liberty' and Other Writings (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)'. It comprises three books: On Liberty, The Subjection of Women, and Chapters on Socialism. Students can also find these books separately available on Leiden University Library Catalogue.


Enrolment through MyStudymap is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the information bar at the right hand side of the page.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc., contact the Education Administration Office Huizinga