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Freedom/Liberty as Essentially Contested Concept


Admission requirements

Admission of third-year bachelor students from other departments on request only; decision on individual basis depending on availability and profile (background in ethics and political philosophy).


Freedom and liberty seem almost universally desired and praised. In a world of widely diverging political philosophies this should be cause for puzzlement.

It is generally accepted that the central role of freedom has in many ways been the defining mark of modern political philosophy, apparently replacing virtuous notions of the good life associated with pre-modernity. Still, here the Roman notion of libertas, dependent on virtus, complicates things. Do people, then, simply mean different things in using the same words? Does it even make sense to use the words freedom and liberty interchangeably?

Discussion in class will revolve around three main questions: What are the main conceptions of freedom? What is their relation? What, if anything, would be the grounds for deciding between them?

Thus, understanding freedom as an essentially contested concept, we will touch on positive and negative freedom, freedom and rights, freedom and virtue, freedom and institutions, freedom and knowledge, as well as their complex interrelations.

Course objectives

Course objectives will be posted on Blackboard by the start of the course.


See Collegeroosters Wijsbegeerte 2013-2014 , BA Wijsbegeerte (BA Plus-traject of Standaardtraject), 3e jaar.
See Timetables Philosophy 2013-2014 , Timetable Undergraduate Courses in English.

Mode of instruction

Lectures and seminars.

Course Load

Total course load: 280 hours.
Attending lectures and seminars: 3 × 14 weeks = 42 hours
Time for studying the compulsory literature and for completing assignments in preparation for class: 118 hours
Time to write a papers (including reading / research final paper): 120 hours

Assessment method

  • Weekly assignments: reading response questions (21 %)

  • Two small papers of 800 words each (44 % in total)

  • Outlines papers (8 % in total)

  • Final paper of 1,600 words (25 %)

  • Attendance (2 %)


Blackboard is used to post course materials and to make announcements.

Reading list

The reading list can be found in the syllabus, which is available from Blackboard.


Please register for this course on uSis.
See Inschrijven voor cursussen en tentamens

Exchange students and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply. See also Registration for courses and examinations

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Registration Contractonderwijs

Contact details

Mr. dr. M.L. Schut