CC.111 | Spring 2013 | Undergraduate

Modern Conceptions of Freedom


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week; 1.5 hours / session

The Concourse Program

This course is part of the Concourse program at MIT. Concourse is a unique program for freshmen. It focuses on integration of the disciplines, teaching the rigorous scientific subjects within the broader human framework. Classes are taught by highly dedicated teachers in an interactive learning environment with small class sizes. This creates a high degree of student-faculty, and student-student interaction and therein a superior learning experience.


None, but there is a corequisite with CC.011 Seminar II.

Course Overview

This course investigates the philosophic basis of our modern way of life. We will first examine the philosophic foundations of modernity—the “Enlightenment”-in the writings of Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. We will then turn to the Constitution, the debates over its establishment, and Tocqueville’s reflections on the regime it created. Through these texts, we will see trace the Founders’ attempts to put enlightenment philosophy into practice, and we will see how notions of freedom, so crucial to this modern philosophic project, inspire and sustain the American experiment. Since the Constitution only launched the endeavor, we next study the way in which great American statesmen understood and conducted this experiment in liberty and popular sovereignty. We conclude with works by the 18th century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, both of whom offer sharp criticism of the Enlightenment project.


Response papers to weekly study questions will be due the first class of each week after the first week. Students will also submit three essays of approximately seven pages (1500-2000 words). The first will be re-written and re-submitted. In addition, each student will be responsible for a 10–minute oral presentation on one of the study questions at some point in the semester.

Required Texts

Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. 2nd ed. Translated by Harvey C. Mansfield. University of Chicago Press, 1998. ISBN: 9780226500447.

Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan: with Selected Variants from the Latin Edition of 1668. Edited by Edwin Curley. Hackett Publishing Company, 1994. ISBN: 9780872201774. [Preview with Google Books]

Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. Edited by C. B. Macpherson. Hackett Publishing Company, 1980. ISBN: 9780915144860. [Preview with Google Books]

Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. Translated, Edited, and with an Introduction by Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop. University of Chicago Press, 2002. ISBN: 9780226805368.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. The First and Second Discourses. Edited by Roger D. Masters. Bedford / St. Martin’s Press, 1969. ISBN: 9780312694401.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life. Translated by Peter Preuss. Hackett Publishing Company, 1980. ISBN: 9780915144945. [Preview with Google Books]

Grade Distribution

Paper 1 25%
Paper 2 25%
Paper 3 30%
Weekly response papers 10%
Class participation 10%

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2013