In September 2005 the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Mohammed, an action that led to violent protests by Muslims all over the world. Critics argued that the cartoons were culturally insulting, Islamophobic, blasphemous and intended to humiliate a marginalized Danish minority. Supporters defend the newspaper's right to free speech.
The example highlights the vital importance of questions of toleration to modern multicultural societies. To what extent should we tolerate actions and ideas that people may find offensive? Does the idea of free speech require us to tolerate everything? What are the limits to tolerance in a modern, pluralist society? The MA Political Philosophy - the Idea of Toleration provides an opportunity to think about toleration from historical and contemporary perspectives. Students have the chance to explore the arguments for toleration made by thinkers such as John Milton, John Locke and John Stuart Mill, and to test the limits of those arguments in the discussion of controversial issues such as pornography, faith schools and holocaust denial. As well as studying toleration, students also have the opportunity to choose additional modules in political philosophy and to write a dissertation of up to 13-15,000 words on a topic of their choosing.
Each year the Geoffrey Heselton Prize (worth £500) is awarded to the best dissertation written by a student on the programme. Generously funded by the Morrell Trust in memory of one of its most distinguished and dedicated Trustees, the Prize is awarded to the student producing the best dissertation on the MAs in Political Philosophy.
In 2007-8 the Heselton Prize was shared between Ryan Harding and Peter Parten, who each received a mark of 78 for their dissertations. Ryan Harding's dissertation was on Hobbes and Spinoza (PDF , 395kb). Peter Parten's dissertation was on the judiciary (PDF , 500kb)
In 2008-9 the Heselton Prize was shared between Marko Simendic and Greg Tibbs, who each received high distinction marks for their dissertations. Marko's dissertation was on the idea of personality in Hobbes's political theory and Greg's work was on the role of Venice in early modern British political thought (PDF , 768kb).
In 2009-10 the Heselton Prize was shared between Elizabeth Morris and James Hodgson.
In 2011-12 the Heselton Prize was shared between William Harnden and Charlotte Phillips.
The MA consists of four taught modules plus a dissertation on a topic of the student's own choice. Students must take:
In addition students must choose two option modules from the following list (options available will vary slightly from year to year):
The last component of the course is a 13-15,000 word dissertation on a subject of the student's choice.
The MA in Political Philosophy - the Idea of Toleration may also be taken on a part-time basis over two years (24 months). Instead of taking two taught modules in the first two terms, as is the case with full-time students, part-time students will normally take one module per term over four terms (the first two terms of Years One and Two), and will then spend the rest of the time working on their dissertation, which must be submitted by 30th September of Year Two.
For both full-time and part-time students, the four taught modules are assessed by 4,000 word essays (one for each module).
Essays are submitted at the beginning of the term following that in which the module was taken.
Louise Coskeran applied to the MA in Toleration and Political Philosophy after gaining a 2.1 in Politics, Economics and Philosophy at the University of York. She secured a Morrell Studentship and graduated in 2007. She currently works as a marketing consultant in Amsterdam.
“I discovered a passion for political philosophy during my undergraduate degree at York, and wished to explore some of the themes that I had touched upon at postgraduate level.
“The strength of the political philosophy group at York meant that the MA was ideal. I haven't been disappointed with my choice and had the added benefit of gaining funding from the Morrell Trust. The course has allowed me to gain a deeper knowledge historical and contemporary political theory, as well as giving me the opportunity to debate controversial applied issues of toleration faced by liberal democracies.
“There is also considerable scope for choice of dissertation topic and the support provided by the department is invaluable.”
Danny Robinson's first degree was in War Studies and Philosophy at King's College London (2.1). He successfully applied for a place on the York MA in Toleration and Political Philosophy in 2005, winning one of the eight available Morrell Scholarships. Danny currently teaches in Japan.
“Upon the completion of my degree I was far from satisfied with the depth to which I had been able to go into some aspects of my studies, particularly moral and political theory.
“The MA at York has enabled me to continue the study of these areas and has also exposed me to a number of interesting thinkers in the field that I had either not previously encountered or not had the opportunity to study in much detail.
“The way the MA is organised allows for multiple opportunities for group discussion of the material that I have found the experience both enlightening and indeed enjoyable. In addition, the funding opportunities at York, from which I have benefited, have made this further year of study less of a financial burden then it may otherwise have been.”
Tom Youldon's first degree was in Politics at York (2.1). He successfully applied for a place on the York MA in Toleration and Political Philosophy in 2003 and graduated with a distinction. Tom currently works as a Press Secretary at the Treasury.
“I decided to take my MA at York despite initially worrying that it would set my job search and career back a year after talking with friends who were already in work. They argued that even if I didn't want an academic career, I would develop my analytical skills, acquire a high degree of proficiency in a particular area (always handy for in job interviews!) and would meet lots of interesting people. They weren't wrong.
“After a wonderful year at York, I won a place on the civil service fast stream and joined the Treasury. Over the past three years, I've had a succession of challenging positions all of which have centred around making written and verbal arguments, calling upon the skills I developed at York. I have found that many faststreamers had postgrad qualifications especially in economics and political philosophy. This discovery prompted me to set up a small philosophy group at the Treasury which is great for a drink in the evenings as well as an exchange of views.
“I'm grateful for all the help and support I received at York and am certain that getting my MA was the right decision.”
My first experience of political philosophy was Book One of Plato's Republic, and from that moment I was hooked.
That happened in the first week of my undergraduate career at LSE. By my second year, I knew not only that I wanted to pursue political philosophy, but also that what I wanted to study was the problem of freedom and responsibility.
Oddly, although I had 'done' Rawls's A Theory of Justice, I was not then much interested in distributive justice. All that changed when I did my PhD. The topic - true to my interest in how, and in what ways, people can be held responsible - was the justification of punishment. What I noticed was that whilst there was a massive amount of new literature on distributive justice, there was comparatively little connecting the advances made in that field with retributive justice. Once I started work on it, I got more interested in both fields and in many ways the difficulties and pay-offs of looking at these two areas together remains the guiding theme of what I do. My PhD turned into my first book, Justice and Punishment.
More recently, I have returned to my core interest in responsibility and the conditions in which it makes sense to praise, blame, reward, and penalise people for their actions or inactions. The result of that is a short book, Responsibility and Justice, which will be published by Polity late in 2006. As part of that work, I became fascinated by the problem of whether we can legitimately be held responsible for our personalities. That has led me to look at the issues of personality disorder and 'dangerousness'. The critical issue is what can a liberal state legitimately do with those who are not 'mad', but who are (believed to be) dangerous. Looking into this has led me to research in psychiatry and law.
What connects all this with toleration is, I believe, an interest in (some of) those at the margin of liberal society such as criminal offenders and those classified as dangerous.
I completed my doctorate on 'John Locke, Edward Stillingfleet and Toleration' in 2003, under the supervision of Dr Ian Harris.
My research continues to centre on (i) the development and character of Locke's theory of toleration and its relation to his wider thought. It has led to an interest in (ii) its implications for contemporary theories of toleration and the views of politics to which they are connected. These interests embody larger interests still, in (iii)historiography and methodological questions arising out of the study of texts and in (iv) understanding the varieties of moral and political reasoning that proliferate in modernity.
My teaching commitments reflect these interests: I lecture on the writings of Michael Oakeshott in the first year module 'Great Political Texts' and teach History of Political Thought, Contemporary Issues in Toleration, and some Contemporary Political Philosophy. I also convene the Morrell Political Theory Workshop, which is open to MA and doctoral students in the Department of Politics.
Professor Matthew Festenstein
Tel: 01904 323573