Modern Social and Political Thought

The details
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 5
Monday 17 January 2022
Friday 25 March 2022
29 September 2021


Requisites for this module



Key module for

BA LV25 Philosophy and Politics,
BA LV26 Philosophy and Politics (Including Placement Year),
BA LV2H Philosophy and Politics (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad),
BA LV2M Philosophy and Politics (Including Year Abroad),
BA LV8M Philosophy and Politics (Including Foundation Year),
BA V5M8 Philosophy with Human Rights (Including Foundation Year),
BA V5M9 Philosophy with Human Rights,
BA V5MX Philosophy with Human Rights (Including Year Abroad),
BA V6M9 Philosophy with Human Rights (Including Placement Year),
BA VLM8 Philosophy with Human Rights (Including Foundation Year and Year Abroad)

Module description

This module will introduce students to key debates in modern social and political thought, through a close examination of seminal texts by Thomas Hobbes, Baruch de Spinoza and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

The module will give students a deeper understanding of our intellectual and socio-political history, as well as a more profound perspective on the still active debates stemming from the positions taken by these philosophers – principally, concerning the nature of freedom, power, and democracy, and the role of the state.

Questions we will be considering include: from where does the state get its authority? Is democracy a natural form of political organisation for humans? Does the state encroach upon our freedom, or make us free? Is inequality an inevitable consequence of society?

We will analyse critically the different answers given to these questions by Hobbes, Spinoza and Rousseau, and consider whether their philosophical accounts of the state and society provide us with a useful means of engaging with contemporary social and political issues.

Module aims

The aims of this module are:

• to appreciate the key contributions that Thomas Hobbes, Baruch de Spinoza and Jean-Jacques Rousseau have made to our modern understanding of society and politics.

• develop an understanding of key political concepts like democracy, authority, sovereignty, freedom, power, equality and tolerance and the ability to critically scrutinise different conceptualisations of these ideas.

• to develop and understanding of the extent and the ways in which these modern conceptual innovations still shape contemporary political life.

• to be able to assess whether and how these conceptual innovations can still underpin social and political critiques of contemporary society.

Module learning outcomes

By the end of the module students should be able in their written and oral work:

• to summarise in their own words and critically assess the philosophical ideas and concepts at work in the main texts examined the course;

• to explicate the central social and political theories presented in these texts, and relate them to important political events in historical period in which they were written;

• to compare and evaluate these social and political theories, making use of selected secondary literature;

• to demonstrate an understanding of the influence these theories have on our contemporary understanding of politics, making reference to contemporary political phenomena and/or theory.

By the end of the module, students should also have acquired a set of transferable skills, and in particular be able to:

• define the task in which they are engaged and exclude what is irrelevant;

• seek and organize the most relevant discussions and sources of information;

• process a large volume of diverse and sometimes conflicting arguments;

• compare and evaluate different arguments and assess the limitations of their own position or procedure;

• write and present verbally a succinct and precise account of positions, arguments, and their presuppositions and implications;

• be sensitive to the positions of others and communicate their own views in ways that are accessible to them;

• think 'laterally' and creatively - see interesting connections and possibilities and present these clearly rather than as vague hunches;

• maintain intellectual flexibility and revise their own position if shown wrong;

• think critically and constructively.

Module information

Incoming Study Abroad students must have already taken an introductory module in Philosophy at their home institution.

Learning and teaching methods

1 x 2-hour lecture and discussion session each week, followed by a one-hour discussion seminar at which issues covered in the lecture will be discussed. Week 21 is a Reading Week.


  • Israel, Jonathan I. (2001) Radical enlightenment: philosophy and the making of modernity, 1650-1750, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Mills, Charles Wade. (1997) The Racial Contract, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  • Rousseau, Jean-Jacques; Gourevitch, Victor. (1997) The discourses and other political writings, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. vol. Cambridge texts in the history of political thought
  • Spinoza, Benedictus de; Silverthorne, Michael. (2007) Theological-political treatise, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. vol. Cambridge texts in the history of philosophy
  • Springborg, Patricia. (2007) The Cambridge companion to Hobbes's Leviathan, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Hobbes, Thomas; Curley, E. M. (c1994) Leviathan: with selected variants from the Latin edition of 1668, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing.
  • Neuhouser, Frederick. (2008-11-30) Rousseau's Theodicy of Self-Love: Oxford University Press.
  • Skinner, Quentin. (2008) Hobbes and republican liberty, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • James, Susan. (2012-01-01) Spinoza on Philosophy, Religion, and Politics: Not Avail.
  • Newey, Glen. (2008) Routledge Philosophy GuideBook to Hobbes and Leviathan, London: Taylor & Francis Ltd.
  • Neuhouser, Frederick; EBSCOhost ebook collection. (2014) Rousseau's critique of inequality: reconstructing the second discourse, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course. The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students. Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Essay Plan (700 Words)   14/02/2022  25% 
Coursework   Essay (2000 Words)  28/03/2022  50% 
Practical   Presentation     25% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Joerg Schaub, email:



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
Of 1521 hours, 18 (1.2%) hours available to students:
1503 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information

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