S. ​Freedom: Individual, Political and Academic

Course Information

Course Number
Curriculum Level
Areas of Study
Interdisciplinary Legal Studies

Section 001 Information


Jonathan Cole J.M. Mason Prof of the University, Provost & Dean Emeritus

Section Description

The concept of freedom is analytically complex and has a long and varied intellectual history. This course will focus on the concept as it emerged in the modern period and focus in particular on three aspects of freedom. Though the primary interest of the seminar will be on political and academic freedom, it will be useful to begin in the opening session with a very brief discussion of the most abstract dimension of freedom by asking what notion of freedom might individual human subjects be said to possess given the determinism that seems to be everywhere indicated by the comprehensive explanatory power of modern science. With this general background in place, the course will proceed to the section on freedom in the political realm, exploring both liberalism and critiques of liberalism. On the side of liberalism, two seminal texts of the political Enlightenment will be scrutinized: John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, and the more recent discussion in John Rawls’s ‘first principle’ of liberty in his Theory of Justice. This will be followed by Karl Marx’s critique of political liberalism in The Jewish Question, and then the section will conclude with two essential papers of our own time, one on the side of liberalism by Isaiah Berlin and the other a ‘republican’ critique of liberalist notions of freedom by Quentin Skinner. Apart from looking at these fundamentally important texts of political theory, there will be two sessions set apart, first for the question of the relationship between religion and freedom (exploring the extent to which faith can be reconciled with freedom) and second for the question of the relationship between freedom and democracy (focusing on recent populisms and nationalisms that seem to pose threats to freedom from ‘the demos’ and the ‘democratically’ mobilized authoritarian state). Turning finally in the third section to academic freedom, the course will take up the question: How does political freedom relate to the ideal of freedom within academic institutions whose chief mission is inquiry. What is freedom of inquiry? How does it relate to freedom of speech as a general political and constitutional right, and what if any are the constraints on freedom that come from the particular context and protocols of academic institutions and the culture of research and pedagogy? In the course of these discussions, we will not shy away from looking at the specific controversies around free speech that are current on American campuses. The readings for this third section of the course will be a combination of philosophical and sociological literature (Max Weber’s essay “Science as a Vocation,” for example) as well as a scrutiny of some of the policy-shaping documents of the American academy. Most readings will be made available on Canvas. One anthology will be made available for purchase at the bookshop, Book Culture.

School Year & Semester
Spring 2020
WJWH 101
Class meets on
  • Wednesday
2:10 - 4:00 pm
Method of Evaluation
J.D Writing Credit?

Course Limitations

Instructor Pre-requisites
Instructor Co-Requisites
Recommended Courses
Other Limitations