History of Political Thought


This module examines central texts by major political thinkers: Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume and Kant.  These thinkers are acknowledged to have provided some of the classic literature concerning politics and its relation to life in general and moral life particularly.  This module introduces and investigates their ideas and their arguments, their methods of argument, and the historical and political contexts in which they were developed.  Among the topics addressed are political obligation (why should one obey the law?), the criteria for legitimate government, the meaning of freedom, the nature and justification of punishment, the role of private property, and various kinds of equality.  All the thinkers studied here discuss some of these issues, and often they comment on one another’s ideas, either directly or by implication, sometimes negatively and sometimes positively.  Sometimes an idea stated embryonically by one thinker is taken over and refined or transformed by another, as with Rousseau and Kant.  Accordingly, the study of one thinker helps to cast light upon the ideas of the others.

Convenor: Dr Tim Stanton

30 credit module

Assessment method:

One procedural written assignment of up to 500 words during the Autumn Term.

One essay of up to 2000 words counting for 40% of the module mark, due in the Winter assessment period (Monday week 1, Spring Term).

One two hour closed examination counting for 60% of the module mark, taken in the Summer assessment period (Weeks 5-7).

Module Aims

  • to develop in students a critical understanding of important texts in the history of political thought
  • to develop students’ analytical, argumentative and communicative skills


Module Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module a student should:

  • have a critical understanding of some of the key texts in the history of political thought
  • have an ability to advance and analyse philosophical arguments about political ideas.

Key Texts

  • Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
  • John Locke, Two Treatises of Government
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality and Social Contract
  • David Hume, Treatise on Human Nature
  • Immanuel Kant, Political Writings


Dr Tim Stanton
Email: tim.stanton@york.ac.uk
Tel: 01904 323567