Visions of Freedom

  • Visions of Freedom Students in Puerto Rico
    Visions of Freedom Students in Puerto Rico
  • Visions of Freedom Students on Old San Juan Harbor
    Visions of Freedom Students on Old San Juan Harbor


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.


Political Science 175FS: Freedom and Responsibility (EI, SS, W)

Michael Gillespie, Professor of Political Science and Philosophy; Director of the Duke Program in American Values and Institutions 

Conflicting visions of freedom and responsibility that characterize the modern world; the possibility of leading ethical lives in the face of conflicting demands that a complex vision of the good engenders. Readings include Luther, Hobbes, Locke, Rosseau, Marx, Kant, and Jack London. Course aims to be an intense introduction to Western philosophical ideas of freedom and responsibility.

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

Martha Reeves, Professor of the Practice of Sociology; 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

Political Science 180FS: Hierarchy and Spontaneous Order: The Nature of Freedom in Political and Economic Organizations (EI, SS, W)

Georg Vanberg, Professor of Political Science and Law

Course examines themes that emerge from the "classics" of political thought through contemporary work in the analytic social science tradition.  Employs the tools of game theory to consider simple models of social and political interaction that shed light on the emergence of formal and informal institutions that govern individual behavior, and the role of these institutions in securing individual freedom. Reliance on analytic models is what differentiates this course from a historical or philosophical inquiry.

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

Jesse Summers, Academic Dean; Lecturing Fellow in Philosophy 

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

Michael Gillespie
Michael Gillespie
  • Professor of Political Science and Philosophy
  • Director of the Duke Program in American Values and Institutions
204G Gross Hall
(919) 660-4308