Major Texts in the History of Philosophy (PHIL*3410)
Term: Winter 2013
We will be looking at the social and political philosophy of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke
and the key readings will consist of selections from Hobbes’s Leviathan and Locke’s The
Second Treatise of Government. Both Hobbes and Locke lived through some extraordinary
times and we will look briefly at some of the historical events they each witnessed, some of
which radically changed the direction of political thought.
Hobbes’s political priority is on a very strong and powerful sovereign/ government and
we will look at his arguments for this priority. (If we change his language to modern day
English, then Hobbes could be a post-911 politician running for election in the US!) We will
look at the different kinds of power he claims a good government must have and his reasons
for these claims. We will think about the issues involved in these key points of Hobbes, as we
go along. Locke challenges Hobbes on a number of these key points and we will look at his
reasons for claiming that Hobbes has it wrong. (Locke is quite radical in his political
philosophy in a number of ways. In fact, some of his claims would be radical even today.)
Again, we will think about some of the issues as we go along.
So in both cases we are not simply reading to see what each says (although we need to
do that). Rather, we are seeing what they say in order to do some thinking about the issues
they raise. Looking at key points from both Hobbes and Locke is helpful here since there are
some fierce disputes between them and that sets us thinking ourselves.
What kinds of issues will arise? Why should we have a government at all? Are there
limitations that should be placed on a government’s power? What type of government is
morally appropriate and what should the government’s top priorities be? Are there some
basic social institutions that all well ordered societies should have? Are there some that ought
to be promoted by any government? What are the morally sound limits on individual liberty?
What role should a government have with respect to such liberty? Etc.