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Freedom and Authority


Blocks 1 and 2: Dennis McEnnerney

This two-block course fulfills the Critical Perspectives: The West in Time requirement. 

Freedom and Authority investigates how Western intellectual and cultural traditions may be drawn upon or need to be criticized if we are to meet the challenges of contemporary life.  Exploring in an interdisciplinary manner the conflicts of individual freedom and institutional authority in ethics, politics, science and religion, block I begins with a study of ancient Greek attempts to balance freedom and authority by means of democratic action. The course then examines whether modern peoples, lacking the traditions of earlier eras, can develop the characters required for meaningful, moral, and autonomous lives.  Block 1 ends with an examination of modern social and economic structures that both promote a sense of individuality and limit actual autonomy.

Block II begins with a critical examination of enlightened rationality, scientific progress, and technological society. Finally, the course will seek to unpack some dilemmas of governing for freedom, particularly as large-scale quasi-democratic states become absorbed in global orders. Our overriding question will be, how can democratic freedom be made substantive in an age of manipulative political marketing, inhumane struggles for power, and elusive global structures?

A two-block course with one instructor; one grade will be given for the course as a whole.


• The course can be counted toward the Philosophy minor focused on Social and Political Philosophy.

• The course will meet on some afternoons.

• Course will probably involve two days of field trips, with commitments lasting until 3 or so.

• Week three of Block 1 will be spent at the Baca campus