What is Freedom?

Acknowledgement:

This course has been made possible through the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities “Enduring Questions” Program. The NEH Enduring Questions grant program supports faculty members in the preparation of a new course on a fundamental concern of human life as addressed by the humanities. These question-driven courses encourage undergraduates and teachers to join together in a deep and sustained program of reading in order to encounter influential ideas, works, and thinkers over the centuries.

Course Description:

Freedom is perhaps the most sought-after goal of revolutionaries and one of the ideas most ardently defended by political theorists. Across the philosophical and political spectrums, there seems to be agreement: freedom is a good thing that, if absent, ought to be pursued and, if present, ought to be defended. These questions remain:

  • What is freedom?
  • Why do human beings want to be free?
  • Should human beings be free?
  • What sorts of political, economic, and social institutions are best suited to promote human freedom?
  • What are the greatest obstacles to human freedom and can those obstacles be overcome?

From the days of Socrates to the present, these questions have occupied great thinkers. In this course we will explore answers that great thinkers have given to these questions. In the process, I hope we will become better able to answer these questions for ourselves.