Philosophy Dissertation Topics

Historical Philosophy

Taking a look into the origins of philosophy and the philosophers who shaped the way the subject is taught today is a fascinating way to approach your dissertation. You could consider comparing their teachings to the modern day or comparing the theorists of the time!

Example historical philosophy dissertation topic 1:

‘Bellum omnium contra omnes’ and contemporary regime change.

Writing during the English Civil War, Hobbes stated his belief of the realities of life without government. In elucidating his views further Hobbes gave no space for separation of powers, arguing instead that man should be ruled by a sovereign authority in which the sovereign authority protects. Accordingly, any abuses of power that the sovereign may discharge are a legitimate price for the protection and preservation of peace. He did, of course, however, also concede that when a sovereign’s power to protect is no more, citizens have the right to change allegiance. This dissertation applies the theories and thinking of Hobbe’s to the instances of recent regime change in Libya and Egypt and asks whether the success of the revolutionary forces did or did not conform to Hobbe’s view of the relationship between sovereign authority and citizens with regard to power, protection, peace, and loyalty.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Martinich, A.P. (1993). Philosophy and government, 1572-1651. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Skinner, Q. (1996). Reason and rhetoric in the philosophy of Hobbes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Strauss, L. (1936). The political philosophy of Hobbes; Its basis and its genesis. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Example historical philosophy dissertation topic 2:

Breaking free from the cave: Plato’s relevance to contemporary views of body image.

Chained in the cave, Plato’s prisoners only see that which is placed before them by the puppeteers. Nothing else can be realised or believed. Such is the level of control that when one of the prisoners eventually breaks free and returns to the cave with ‘the truth’ he is not believed. This dissertation contemporises Plato’s allegory and in so doing questions whether the lessons learnt from Plato should be applied as a ‘reality check’ against media stereotypes and the way that people should look.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Heidegger, M. (2002). The essence of truth: On Plato’s parable of the cave and the Theaetetus. (English translation of Vom Wesen der Wahrheit, 1988). London: Continuum.
  • Myers, P.N. and Biocca, F.A. (1992). ‘The elastic body image: The effect of television advertising and programming on body image distortions in young women’, Journal of Communication, Vol. 42, pp. 108-133.
  • Shusterman, R. (2008). Body consciousness: A philosophy of mindfulness and somaesthetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Philosophy of Religions

Researching Philosophy from a religious perspective is a very popular way to complete a dissertation. Whether you want to discuss religious experiences, diversity or the spiritual life, the philosophy of religions could be the subject for you!

Example philosophy of religions dissertation topic 1:

Rousseau, Plato and the concept of civil religion.

Within the chapter ‘On civil religion’ of Book IV of the Social Contract Rousseau discusses how institutions of state contribute to the preservation of regime. In so doing he suggests that when citizens deviate from general will (when seeing such a course as advantageous) the regime is at its greatest level of threat. In so doing he can be seen to be echoing the sentiments that he expressed in the Second Discourse regarding civil religion as being a legal institution. He accordingly notes that “[a]s men began to look to the future and as they all saw themselves with some goods (quelques biens) to lose’, and that ‘there was not one of them who did not have to fear reprisals against himself for wrongs (torts) he might to do another,” (Rousseau, Second Discourse, p. 154. Emile, pp. 97-99). Immediately thereafter Rousseau notes the role of Ceres (the Roman God of Harvest) and in so doing can be seen to be using religion as a basic for civil law. This dissertation seeks to compare and contrast Rousseau’s use of gods and civil religion as a means of strengthening the legislator with that used by Plato in The Laws.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Angrosino, M. (2002). ‘Civil religion redux’, Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 75(2), pp. 239-267.
  • Rousseau, J-J. (1979). Emile, or On education. (Translated by A. Bloom.) New York: Basic Books.
  • Rousseau, J-J. (1993). Discourse on the origins of inequality (Second Discourse), Polemics, and political economy. (Translated by J.R. Bush, R.D.
  • Masters, C. Kelly, and T. Marshall.) Hanover, NH: Dartmouth University Press.

Example philosophy of religions dissertation topic 2:

Malebranche, the simplicity of God, and the Catholic Church.

As a seventeenth century philosopher, Malebranche, suggested, in his Treatise on Nature and Grace (1680) that God had the power to prevent naturally occurring evils (such as his mal-formed spine). He further argued that God could have, had He so desired, created a better world than that which He did create. Malebranche also suggested that it is not God who is responsible for sinful actions because such acts derive not from His being or grace but from other sinful agents. The Roman Catholic Church subsequently placed the book on its Index of Prohibited Books in 1690. This dissertation seeks to analyse this work of Malebranche and also to place it into its historic context by reviewing the counter contemporaneous philosophical arguments furthered by, for instance, Antoine Arnauld and Jean-Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Malebranche, N. (1992). Treatise on nature and grace. (Translated by P. Riley.) Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Schmaltz, T. (1996). Malebranche’s theory of the soul. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Schumacher, R. (2008). ‘Locke on the intentionality of sensory ideas’, Theories of Perception in Medieval and Early Modern Philosophy, Vol. 6, pp. 271-283.

Contemporary Philosophy

If you are more interested in the current social and political issues relating to philosophy then contemporary philosophy may be a good choice for your dissertation!

Example contemporary philosophy dissertation topic 1:

The present global economic crisis: A new Kuhnian paradigm shift?

As a twentieth century philosopher Kuhn coined the concept ‘paradigm shift’ – when there is a change of basic assumptions. Within the field of economics two substantive paradigm shifts can be noted within the twentieth century. The first was the move to Keynesianism and its resultantly becoming the principle doctrine of economic policy making. The second was in the early 1970s when monetarism not only replaced Keynesianism but also debased elements of the basic assumptions that had underlined it, namely, that both fiscal and monetary policies were important in stabilising inflation. This dissertation questions, given the perceived failings of monetarism through the present economic global crisis whether, in applying the paradigm shift concept of Kuhn, a new eco-political reality is emerging in which the base assumptions of monetarism (like Keynesian before it) have also been found wanting.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Colander, D., Holt, R. and Rosser, B. (2004). ‘The changing face of mainstream economics’, Review of Political Economy, Vol. 16(4), pp. 485-499.
  • Fine, B. (2002). ‘Economics imperialism and the new development economics as Kuhnian paradigm shift?’, World Development, Vol. 30(12), pp. 2057-2070.
  • Korhonen, J. (2002). ‘The dominant economics paradigm and corporate social responsibility’, Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management, Vol. 9, pp. 66-79.

Social and Political Philosophy

Deciding to do your dissertation on society or politics is a fantastic angle to take when writing your dissertation. Whether you are interested in society and politics of the modern day or would prefer to look at the philosophy of politics from other centuries, social and political philosophy may be the one!

Example social and political philosophy dissertation topic 1:

The philosophy of wellbeing:

Traditional measures of wellbeing centre upon tangible measurements such as economic health, the GDP of nations and income. In contrast, this dissertation looks at the measurement of well-being in terms of happiness. In so doing it looks at the state of Bhutan, the only state in the world to record an official measure of happiness. David Cameron, the UK prime minister under the Coalition Government, has suggested that the UK, too, should measure happiness, a policy that has been scorned by both ends of the political spectrum. This thesis hopes to show that subjective measures of wellbeing through happiness are indeed relevant and that they are, therefore, as relevant to issues of public policy, as more readily quantifiable measurements pertaining to issues such as data and wealth.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Ash, C. (2007). ‘Happiness and economics: A Buddhist perspective’, Society and Economy, Vol. 29(2), pp. 201-222.
  • Bates, W. (2009). ‘Gross national happiness’, Asian-Pacific Economic Literature, Vol. 23, pp. 1-16.
  • Thinley, L.J.Y. (2004). ‘Value and development: Gross national happiness’. In, Mukherjee, P.N. and Sengupta, C., Indigeneity and universality in social science: A South Asian response. New Delhi: SAGE, pp. 203-211.

Example social and political philosophy dissertation topic 2:

Locke and the state of nature: evaluating the critics.

The 17th century philosopher John Locke noted that ‘want [lack] of a common judge, with authority, puts all persons in a state of nature’ and that ‘men living according to reason, without a common superior on earth, to judge between them, is properly the state of nature’ (1988, p. 19). This dissertation presents three different interpretations of what Locke meant by these words and through so doing not only critiques the work of Locke himself but also: Dunn, Simmons, and Strauss.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Dunn, J. (1969). The political thought of John Locke. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Simmons, A.J. (1993). On the edge of anarchy: Locke, consent, and the limits of society. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Strauss, L. (1953). Natural right and history. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Example social and political philosophy dissertation topic 3:

European federalism: A movement in keeping with Kant’s model of perpetual peace?

In expanding his theory of perpetual peace and the groupings of nations, Kant commented in his three definitive articles in the essay ‘Perpetual peace: A philosophical sketch’ (1795) that, ‘the civil constitution of every state should be republican’, ‘the law of nations shall be founded on a federation of free states’, and ‘the law of world citizenship shall be limited to conditions of universal hospitality’. He also stated that the executive should be separate from the legislature. Given the present legislative and executive structure of the EU, the creation of a European presidency, and the nature of European citizenship, this dissertation seeks to evaluate the extent to which Kant’s three articles can be seen to be enshrined within the constitutional arrangements of the developing EU federal state.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Eleftheriades, P. (2007). ‘The idea of a European constitution’, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 27(1), pp. 1-21.
  • Kagan, R. (2002). ‘Power and weakness: Why the United States and Europe see the world differently’, Policy Review, Vol. 113, pp. 3-29.
  • Přibáň, J. (2009). ‘The juridification of European identity, its limitations and the search of EU democratic politics’, Constellations, Vol. 16, pp. 44-58.


Maybe ethics is more for you? Looking into the ethics of humans, their morality, the ethics of judgment or the nature of ethics could be the topic for you!

Example ethics dissertation topic 1:

What is a person? How the 21st century is shaping a modern-day philosophical conundrum.

Designer babies, cloning, memory, personality and IQ enhancing drugs are but some aspects of the modern human condition. Genetic manipulation is another facet of modern life through which we have the scientific skill (if not the legal framework) to eradicate or change further characteristics of human nature. Such developments suggest, at least philosophically, that we may be approaching a time when ‘what it means to be human’ is more open to debate than hitherto. Indeed, what aspects of a person are unchanging and fixed – if any? Musing upon this contemporary philosophical conundrum, this dissertation seeks answers not only through the utilisation of historic core texts of philosophy but also through the medium of developing science and ethics. This is a cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary dissertation that has much scope for original thought.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Baumeister, R.F. (2005). The cultural animal: Human nature, meaning, and social life. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Hauskeller, M. (2009). ‘Making sense of what we are: A mythological approach to human nature’, Philosophy, Vol. 84(1), pp. 95-109.
  • McConnell, T. (2011). ‘Genetic enhancement and moral attitudes toward the given’, Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 28, pp. 369-380.


Maybe you are fascinated by the teachings of specific theorists like Marx, Locke or Plato. If so, these suggested topics may be best for you:

Example theorists dissertation topic 1:

The importance for critical theory and Marxism of the Habermas-Gadamer debacle.

The criticisms of Gadamer’s views upon hermeneutics by Habermas in Zue Logik der Sozialwissenschaften (1970) centred upon methodological issues in the social sciences and resulted in a protracted academic argument that also involved inputs from distinguished contemporaneous philosophers including Wellmer, Ricouer, and Apel. This dissertation re-examines aspects the debate between Habermas and Gadamer and in so doing focuses particularly upon issues of linguistic philosophy, the interaction between living traditions and critical theory and the effect that each of these can be seen to have upon Habermas’ interpretation of Marxism both in the 1970s and the present day.

Suggested initial topic reading:

  • Habermas, J. (1971). Knowledge and human interest (English translation). Toronto: Beacon Press.
  • Piercey, R. (2004) ‘Ricoeur’s account of tradition and the Gadamer-Habermas debate’, Human Studies, Vol. 27(3), pp. 259-280.
  • Wellmer, A. (2009). ‘On spirit as a part of nature’, Constellations, Vol. 16, pp. 213-226.

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