Visions of Freedom


Over the last three hundred years, ideas of freedom have changed the world, contributing to the collapse of monarchy, the abolition of slavery, the promotion of women's rights, the rise of national independence movements, the advent of self-government, the rise of capitalism and the rise of communism. The idea of freedom remains so powerful that both of the parties in any given conflict often argue that they are its defenders. How can such claims be assessed? Do we know what it means to speak of a free people; a free government; a free economy; or of personal or moral freedom? The aim of this cluster will be to develop a critical understanding of various competing conceptions of freedom and of their historical origins.


Economics 190FS: Freedom and the History of Economics

Bruce Caldwell, Research Professor of Economics and Director of Center for the History of Political Economy.

Do our visions of freedom include free markets? What IS a free market? Does a successful market system require government intervention? What kinds of intervention are typically proposed? What sorts of benefits does a market system convey? At what costs? How might we judge a market system in terms of such categories as wealth creation, efficiency in production, the provision of social justice, and effects on the environment?  What sorts of values does a market system presuppose, and what sorts of values does it inculcate? What sorts of alternatives to a market system exist, and what do we think about them?

We will address these and other questions about a market system through an examination of classic writings by some of the foundational thinkers in the history of economics. The scholars whose works we will discuss include both defenders and critics of markets, among them Adam Smith, Thomas Robert Malthus, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Alfred Marshall, Thorstein Veblen, John Maynard Keynes, Friedrich Hayek, and Joseph Schumpeter.  We will place these writings in the context of their times, but also with an eye towards their relevance for addressing current pressing concerns.   

Markets & Management Studies 190FS — Freedom and the Market (SS, EI, W)

Martha Reeves, Professor of the Practice and Director of Markets and Management Studies

The course examines the relationship between freedom and the market. We approach the market from three different perspectives in political philosophy:  the right, the center, and the left. We will also examine how values and culture affect market activities, and how the phenomenon of globalization has both enhanced and reduced individual freedom. In our study of the market, we will engage with several readings. Among them are:

  • Reinventing the Bazaar by John MacMillan
  • Some Things Should Not Be for Sale by Debra Satz
  • Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Freidman
  • Corrosion of Character by Richard Sennett
  • Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen
  • Anarchy, State and Utopia by Richard Nozick

Classics 170FS/ Ethics 170FS/ Political Science 170FS — Liberty and Equality: Ancient and Modern Perspectives (CZ, SS, CCI, EI)

Jed Atkins, Assistant Professor of Classical Studies

Examines the democratic values of liberty and equality in Greek, Roman, and American political thought. Are democracy and liberty allies or foes? What is the relationship between liberty and equality? Is freedom possible under non-democratic regimes? Is individual liberty protected by equal and inalienable human rights? What is the relationship between individual liberties and aspirations for a good and just society? Why have some democratic societies embraced imperialism or slavery? Readings drawn from Aristophanes, Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, Polybius, Cicero, Livy, Tacitus, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Lincoln, London, Vonnegut, Hauerwas, among others.

Philosophy 124FS — Freedom and Moral Obligation (CZ, EI, W)

Jesse Summers, Academic Dean

Are moral obligations limitations on our freedom, or are they, as some philosophers have insisted, the fullest expressions of our freedom? To understand the disagreement, we’ll first look at what moral obligations are and how we come to have them at all. Are we morally obligated because we live in a society, because of how we evolved, or because we’re rational beings? 

We will then ask about the nature of moral motivation by considering altruism, giving to others with nothing expected in return. Can we ever act on purely altruistic motives? Are altruistic actions “supererogatory,” actions “above and beyond” what morality requires? Or does morality impose incredibly high—perhaps impossibly high—standards on us?

Finally, we will consider collective moral obligations. When a moral problem, like alleviating global poverty or remedying climate change, is solvable not by individual action, but by coordinated, collective action, does that morally obligate each of us individually? Does “doing my part,” when my part is small enough not to be noticed, make me righteous or a sucker?

Faculty Director

Jed Atkins
  • Associate Professor of Classical Studies
232 Allen Building, Durham, NC 27708
Campus Box: 
Box 90103
(919) 684-2695