German 265: Genealogies of Freedom: A Transcultural Prospective

Instructor: John McCumber

The concept of freedom and its associated practices remain essential to the self-definition of modern individuals and communities, but freedom has recently found a peculiar fate: it is no longer considered one social value among several, such as democracy, equality, justice, and “domestic tranquility,” but has become for many the only value: an individual’s life is better the “freer” it is, and a community is better the more it fosters individual freedom, irrespective of all else. Ghere is a nest of confusions here, and in order to deal with we must first understand the nature of freedom itself. The times thus cry out for what Eric Foner claims America never produced: a theoretical account of freedom such as John Stuart Mill produced for Britain in his “On Liberty.” But Mills’ approach, which is to assumes a particular definition of freedom and attempt to draw its limits, will not suffice here, for how freedom is to be defined is precisely the issue at stake. Since, as philosophers like Kant, Plato, and Spinoza tell us, there are no uncontroversial examples of freedom, we must turn to thought about freedom, as deposited in intellectual history. This course will therefore adopt a “genealogical” approach, selectively tracing what Nietzsche calls “the descent of our moral prejudices” regarding freedom from the Greeks on. This investigation will be pluralistic in a Foucaldian sense, examining how the current situation of freedom arose transculturally, over millennia, from developments in several different fields: everyday life, religion, politics, and philosophical reflection. Course work may be done in English, French, or German. Readings and class discussion will be in English.

Requirements: one class presentation, the format of which will be discussed at the first session; final paper. Auditors will be required to do a presentation.

The texts will be made available the course web page.

Tues 2-4:50           Online LA