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Political Ideas – John Locke

5. Slavery

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In this module, we consider Locke’s writings on – and involvement with – slavery, focusing in particular on: (i) Locke’s direct involvement in slavery due to his patron, the first Earl of Shaftesbury, being made Lord Proprietor of Carolina in 1663; (ii) Locke’s involvement in drafting and subsequently revising the ‘Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina’ from 1669; (iii) Locke’s knowledge of the conditions of slaves in the “New World” and his investment in and profit from slavery; (iv) the implications of Locke’s perplexing inclusion in the ‘Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina’ the claim that slaves had the right to ‘be of what church any of them shall think best’; (v) J. Farr’s comments on Locke’s indifference to ‘the lives and liberties of the persons made slaves in the new world’.


This course explores the political philosophy of John Locke (1632-1704), oriented around the Liberalism section of the Government and Politics A-Level specification. We begin in the first module by outlining his life and works, before moving on to explore in the second module Locke’s conception of natural rights, natural law, and the state of nature. In the third module, we explore the importance of Locke’s formulation of consent in his political thought, focusing in particular on his notion of tacit consent and claim that the formation of a political society requires all to renounce their ‘executive power of the law of nature’. In the fourth module, we consider Locke’s ‘Letter Concerning Toleration’ of 1689, highlighting the centrality of Christian doctrines to Locke’s formulation of religious toleration, before moving on to consider in the fifth module Locke’s writings on – and involvement with – slavery, and the implications of this for his political thought more broadly.


Dr Jennifer Marušić specialises in the history of modern philosophy, and is especially interested in John Locke, David Hume and British Empiricism. She is senior lecturer in the University of Edinburgh's School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, and is currently researching Hume and Locke’s views about the nature of judgment and issues connected to the problem of causation in Hume’s philosophy. She recently wrote on Hume and Berkeley for 'The Oxford Handbook of Berkeley'.

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APA style

Marušić, J. (2022, February 16). Political Ideas – John Locke - Slavery [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Marušić, J. "Political Ideas – John Locke – Slavery." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 16 Feb 2022,

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