The Problem of Freedom

This course considers why freedom is an enduring human desire and why that desire is complicated and problematic. Over the course of the semester, students examine why freedom is a problem, at once eliciting strong attachments and deep controversies. Students consider what it means to be free in a variety of perspectives and contexts, from the American Declaration of Independence to the visions of freedom found in classic African-American critiques of the American political order; and discuss competing notions of what liberation means for women. The course also considers freedom’s problematic relations with authority by comparing a classic case for civil disobedience with a classic case for obedience to the law. Finally, the course considers the dark side of the desire for freedom: if one liberates oneself from all constraints, might one not find oneself adrift and without direction and so look to guidance in the majority opinion of those around us, regardless of whether that opinion is good or bad? Might one even come to desire malevolent forms of authority?

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