Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Susan Buck-Morss

Committee Members

Gary Wilder

Uday Mehta

Subject Categories

Political Theory


Temporality, History, Subjectivity, Selfhood


This dissertation engages the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Adam Smith through the lens of time. By first analyzing their earlier works on the nature of self-consciousness, it demonstrates that each offers a theory of subjectivity that, despite important differences, shares a singular point of distinction from those that typified early modern thought. Against the predominant view that human freedom necessitates immaterial agency, each theorizes a materialist agent that is able to overcome the determinism of the material world by way of the temporal nature of subjectivity. Each understands self-consciousness to be constituted by an extension of memory into the past and imagination into the future, which, they argue, allows humans to act beyond, or in spite of, the present that would otherwise determine behavior. In conceiving subjectivity materially and temporally, their theories of freedom center equally on the futurity that makes freedom possible and the social context of its expression. As such, rather than simply being the implicit foundations for political thought, this dissertation demonstrates that their theories of subjectivity are necessarily political concepts—political concepts that are foundational to liberal thought. Through analyzing the particular methods each employs in theorizing the relationship between freedom and futurity, this dissertation offers new interpretations of their work, while charting movements between their ideas in the interest of opening the historical, neoliberal present to temporal analysis.