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The Idea of Liberty - POL00035H

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  • Department: Politics
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Martin O'Neill
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2017-18

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2017-18

Module aims

Liberty, or freedom, has been one of the most important political ideals of the four hundred years, and it has also been one of the most fiercely contested. All sides in political argument want to say that they believe in freedom and liberty, but the kinds of liberty or freedom that are valued by can vary enormously. This course focuses upon questions about the meaning, history, and concrete implications of our conceptions of liberty. We shall ask: Does the state secure or hinder liberty? Should we understand political liberty as the absence of interference, collective self-mastery, freedom from domination, or something else entirely? Does religious liberty deserve special protection? How are the values of liberty and equality related? Are liberty and democracy incompatible? Does political liberty presuppose autonomous agency? Can we be 'forced to be free'? How should free expression be regulated, and what (if any) should be the limits to freedom of speech? In grappling with debates about liberty, we will read and discuss a range of texts from the history of political thought and from contemporary political philosophy, bringing each to bear on the discussion of a number of concrete issues of current politics and public policy.

Module learning outcomes

  • To enable students to be able to understand and assess major debates concerning political liberty
  • To develop students’ abilities in writing, analysis, and argumentation in political philosophy


Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Special assessment rules



Task Length % of module mark
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will receive written timely feedback on their formative assessment. They will also have the opportunity to discuss their feedback during the module tutor’s feedback and guidance hours.

Students will receive written feedback on their summative assessment no later than six weeks after submission; and the module tutor will hold a specific session to discuss feedback, which students can also opt to attend. They will also have the opportunity to discuss their feedback during the module tutor’s regular feedback and guidance hours.

Indicative reading

Isaiah Berlin, ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ in his Four Essays on Liberty

Ian Carter, Matthew H. Kramer and Hillel Steiner, Freedom: A Philosophical Anthology

David Miller (ed.), The Liberty Reader

J. S. Mill, On Liberty

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.