Freedom and Its Limits

October 5/6

Start Date



75 mins

class length

40+ mins

Weekly Video




Freedom. Wars have been fought in its name. It’s been the emblem for youth movements and spiritual awakenings. People have been more reluctant to give up their freedom than to give up their lives.

But what is freedom? And why do people value it so highly?

This course examines the concept of freedom in some of the many forms it takes. We’ll look at free will, political liberty, existential freedom, individual autonomy, and spiritual liberation, among other things. We’ll consider the relative merits of these ideals and ask what they have in common that makes this same word, “freedom,” come up in such different contexts.

This course is designed to be accessible to people with no prior training in philosophy. Some of the texts are difficult, and university-level English reading skills are an asset. But video lectures and reading guides are designed to make these texts accessible.


We will meet on ten consecutive weekdays (plus a first organizational meeting). There are three class meeting times*:

  • Wednesdays: 11am Pacific/2pm Eastern/7pm Ireland & UK/8pm Europe
  • Thursdays: 11am Pacific/2pm Eastern/7pm Ireland & UK/8pm Europe
  • Thursdays: 6pm Pacific/9pm Eastern

Each class is 75 minutes long and will be supplemented by a 40–60 minute video lecture and short reading guide made available in advance.

* Changes in daylight savings time will cause a shift in schedule for participants outside North America starting in early November


Each week we will read a selected text, usually between 20 and 30 pages long. Readings will be made available in PDF format through the course website.

Learning Path

Week 0 (Oct 5/6): Organizational meeting

Week 1 (Oct 12/13): Stoic freedom: Epictetus

Week 2 (Oct 19/20): Free agency and karma: The Mahābhārata

Week 3 (Oct 26/27): Freedom and volition: Harry Frankfurt

Week 4 (Nov 2/3): Existential freedom: Jean-Paul Sartre

Week 5 (Nov 9/10): Autonomy as freedom: Christine Korsgaard

Week 6 (Nov 16/17): Unlimited freedom: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Week 7 (Nov 23/24): Negative and positive freedom: Isaiah Berlin

Week 8 (Nov 30/Dec 1): Feminist freedom: Nancy Hirschmann

Week 9 (Dec 7/8): Freedom from ignorance: The Alagaddūpama Sutta

Week 10 (Dec 14/15): The free spirit: Friedrich Nietzsche

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