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The Idea of Liberty - POL00035H

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  • Department: Politics
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Adam Fusco
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2022-23

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2022-23

Module aims

Liberty, or freedom, has been one of the most important political ideals of the past 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: Should we understand political liberty as the absence of interference, collective self-mastery, freedom from domination, or something else entirely? Does the state secure or hinder liberty? How are the values of liberty and equality related? Does capitalism support or undermine liberty? Are liberty and democracy incompatible? Does political liberty presuppose autonomous agency? Can we speak of the unfreedom of peoples? Can liberty be justifiably curtailed in the name of security? 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

Students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of different conceptions of liberty, their historical lineage and relationship to contemporary political problems.
  • Independently apply different philosophical conceptions of liberty to analysis of contemporary political problems and issues, and be able to critically analyse their comparative limitations and attraction.
  • Independently conceive research questions and justify political proscriptions with analysis of different conceptions of liberty.
  • Work independently to set goals and objectives in order to solve problems through gathering and analysis of relevant political philosophy and political theory literature.
  • Present arguments using advanced ideas from study of the idea of liberty through formative and summative essay work.
  • Work independently in light of the values of tolerance and inclusivity; and recognise the ethical implications of different conceptions of liberty.


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 20 working days 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.

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.