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Level 5

5AANA003 Modern Philosophy II: Locke & Berkeley


Credit value: 15
Module tutor: Dr Jasper Reid


  • Summative assessment: 1 x 2-hour examination (100%)
  • Formative assessment: 1 x 2,000 word essay


  • Summative assessment: 1 x 2-hour examination (100%) 
  • Formative assessment: 1 x 2,000 word essay

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

Teaching pattern: one one-hour weekly lecture and one one-hour weekly seminar over ten weeks.
Pre-requisites: none

This module will develop students’ familiarity with Modern philosophy through an examination of the thought of Locke and Berkeley. Students will gain a familiarity with the central epistemological and metaphysical claims of each philosopher, through a reading of central primary texts. Students will develop an appreciation of the historical context within which the empiricist tradition developed. The module will examine various key aspects of the Lockean approach and evaluate Berkeley’s criticism of it as well as his idealist response.

Further information

Module Aims
Learning Outcomes
Past Syllabi
Core Reading
Indiciative List of Topics
Indiciative Reading List

Module aims

Through attention to the primary texts to communicate an understanding of the thought and core arguments of Locke and Berkeley.

  • To convey how the problems under discussion were motivated for these thinkers.

  • To develop a more advanced approach to the history of philosophy through engagement with more sophisticated secondary literature.

  • To teach students to read texts in the history of philosophy with care and subject them to philosophical analysis.

  • To gain an appreciation of the problems of interpretation that can arise in regard to figures in the history of philosophy as well as specifically philosophical challenges.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the module, the students will be able to demonstrate intellectual, transferable and practicable skills appropriate to a Level 5 module and in particular will be able to demonstrate:

  • A critical understanding of the metaphysical and epistemological views of Locke and Berkeley.

  • An understanding of the need for interpreting a philosopher’s claims in their historical context.

  • A careful readings of and reflection upon some core texts, as well as introductory and secondary material, and attention to questions of interpretation.

Past syllabi

Please note that module syllabus and topics covered may vary from year to year.

Core reading

  • Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding
  • Berkeley, A Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Nature, and/or Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous

These works are readily available in a wide variety of editions, both in print and online.

Indictive list of topics:

1. General introduction to Locke’s project; his critique of innate ideas.

2. Locke on primary and secondary qualities.

3. Locke on substance; thinking matter.

4. Locke on personal identity.

5. Locke on power and liberty; language; real and nominal essences.

6. Berkeley on language, and (the impossibility of) abstract ideas.

7. Berkeley’s rejection of the primary/secondary quality distinction.

8. Berkeley’s rejection of material substance; the ‘master argument’; scepticism and common sense.

9. Berkeley on the permanence of bodies and the existence of God (and related issues).

10. Objections and replies; Berkeley on the human mind, and our knowledge thereof.

Indictive reading list:

1. Essay, Book I, chapters 1 and 2 (at least).

2. Essay, Book II, chs. 1, 8.

3. Essay, Book II, ch. 13, §§17–20; ch. 23; Book IV, ch. 3, §6.

4. Essay, Book II, ch. 27.

5. Essay, Book II, ch. 21, §§1–30; Book III, chs. 1–3, 6.

6. Principles of Human Knowledge, Introduction.

7. Principles, §§1–33, especially 9–15; and/or Three Dialogues, First Dialogue, especially the first half thereof.

8. Principles, §§16–24, 67–72, 85–91; and/or Three Dialogues, the final few pages of both the First and the Second Dialogues (pp 197–207 and 221–226 in the Luce & Jessop page numbering), and the opening portion of the third (pp. 227–238).

9. Principles, §§25–33, 92–96, 146–156; and/or Three Dialogues, here and there in the Second and Third Dialogues, around pp. 212–220, 234–238, 248–256.

10. Principles, §§25–27, 34–84, 135–145; and/or Three Dialogues, around the middle of the Third Dialogue, pp. 232–248.

The modules run in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand so there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

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