Freedom: The Philosophy of Liberation

Course No. 449
Professor Dennis Dalton, Ph.D.
Barnard College, Columbia University
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Course No. 449
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Course Overview

Professor Dennis Dalton explores the meaning of freedom, perhaps the most powerful of the ideas that have inspired mankind throughout the ages. Drawing on his work as a scholar of Gandhi and of Indian political thought, he examines the progress of both personal and political freedom. And though the idea of freedom is, for many people, embodied by the United States, the concept is far older than this country. It is by no means an exclusively American product.

Indeed, the concept of liberation has long been the subject of learned thought,stretching as far back as the time of Plato and as far away as ancient India.

Professor Dalton's lectures are a guided tour along the byways of the philosophy of liberation, beginning with its ancient roots and ending in 20th-century America.

Truths Linked By the Same Path

Throughout these lectures, Professor Dalton recounts the progress toward personal liberation and spiritual freedom found in the lives of those who were often consumed by fierce and difficult struggles for political freedom.

He argues that the results achieved along the way are not separate mysteries but truths linked by the same path.

Lecture 1 is devoted to the idea of freedom in the ancient world.

Professor Dalton points out that freedom is an idea cherished and defended by Americans as integral to our culture and as a principle of immense value to our national identity.

But you also learn that the philosophy of freedom was never intrinsically American and has its roots in diverse ancient cultures.

This lecture explores and compares three of those roots:

  • the ancient Hindu philosophy of dual freedom as described in the Bhagavad Gita
  • the Greek philosopher Plato's study of freedom in the republic of Athens
  • the major contributions Christian philosophy has made to the ideal of freedom.

Lecture 2's discussion of freedom's advent in the modern world begins with the foundations established by John Locke in 17th-century England and by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in 18th-century France.

You learn that though each created an intricate system of thought, neither was removed from the political turmoil and radical change that swirled around them.

Professor Dalton compares Locke's and Rousseau's philosophies of freedom and relates both to the chain of thought already established.

By lecture's end, you see how the reality of American government today has been deeply influenced by the ideas each put forward:

  • Locke's idea of the government's legitimacy through social contract
  • Rousseau's blending of liberty and equality.
A Revolution in Thoughts About Freedom

Lecture 3 explores the work of G.W.F. Hegel, whose ideas came at a time when political thought in 19th-century Europe was sharply divided.

You learn how Hegel developed a philosophy that revolutionized thinking about man's freedom.

Hegel was the first philosopher to surmise that the will of God alone was determining the course of history, and that aiding a state's quest for power and greatness was the only way for an individual to achieve a higher freedom.

This philosophy had an enormous influence on nationalism, especially German nationalism, at a crucial period in that nation's history.

Lecture 4 turns to the work of John Stuart Mill, the 19th-century English philosopher who defined the meaning of freedom with extraordinary clarity and precision.

Mill's text On Liberty, published in 1806, may be one of the most influential texts in defining freedom as understood by most Americans.

Mill was a pioneer in the struggle to defend the rights of the individual and of women.

His sweeping defense of free expression and his distrust of the "tyranny of the majority" have helped to define our own political culture. They are reflected in numerous Supreme Court decisions.

An Articulation of Anarchy

Lecture 5 is devoted to the work and thoughts of Emma Goldman, the most articulate anarchist of the 20th century.

Professor Dalton introduces you to this extraordinary theorist who refined the principles of anarchism and used them to address the issue of liberation of women as well as men.

You learn how her brutal childhood instilled in her not only a hatred of authority and love of equality but the utmost belief in the power of early upbringing to bring out the best in human nature.

Although not regarded today as an American hero in most circles, Goldman was a passionate advocate for the freedom of humanity from oppressive authority and a prophet of the downfall of Soviet communism.

Lecture 6 gives Professor Dalton an opportunity to discuss the subject of one of his own books in the person of Mahatma Gandhi, the original thinker, activist, and political leader who led the Indian subcontinent out of British domination.

Gandhi's methods of nonviolent resistance combined with a philosophy of fearlessness have made him one of the most revered men of our century.

A Commitment to Ending the Cycle of Violence

You learn how Gandhi's philosophy emerged out of the violence of Indian uprising and effected a miraculous transformation of that nation into one of strength and resolve.

Gandhi taught that the world has become addicted to violence as a way of solving problems and that it is time to break the cycle.

Professor Dalton argues that Gandhi, perhaps more than any other leader of our time, showed the possibilities of peace as an effective force.

Lecture 7 offers an examination of the life of Malcolm X, one of the most influential fighters in the struggle for civil rights in America.

Though he is often associated with the violent separatist doctrines he preached as a young minister of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm underwent a conversion to inclusivism only a year before his assassination.

Dalton traces Malcolm X's life journey, finding many comparisons to that of Gandhi despite their very different circumstances.

Spiritual Freedom as a Step Towards Political Freedom

He concludes that they were both leaders who pursued freedom in more than just political terms. For Malcolm X, freedom was a quest to liberate oneself spiritually as a step to achieving that same freedom politically.

In Lecture 8, Professor Dalton completes the course with a look at the work of Martin Luther King, Jr.

You learn how King, in his struggle for civil rights in the United States, synthesized the teachings of Christ and Mahatma Gandhi to create a method of nonviolent resistance.

It was a synthesis that carried Americans toward justice during the turbulent years of the 1950s and 1960s, and Professor Dalton uses King's life and legacy to review how far the philosophy of freedom has come.

Once the province only of academics, he concludes, it now inspires activists and political leaders in nonviolent struggle.

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8 lectures
 |  Average 47 minutes each
  • 1
    Freedom in the Ancient World
    The idea of freedom as expounded by ancient Indian philosophy (the concept of swaraj); Greek political theory in the writings of Thucydides and Plato's Republic; and early Christianity. x
  • 2
    The Advent of Freedom in the Modern World
    The distinctively modern meanings of freedom in the political theories of 17th-century philosopher John Locke and 18th-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. x
  • 3
    Hegel’s Philosophy of Freedom, God and the State
    The idea of freedom expounded by the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel and the 19th century and the theoretical relationship of this idea to his concepts of God and the State. x
  • 4
    John Stuart Mill’s Philosophy of Freedom
    An analysis of Mill's classic text, On Liberty, showing its contrasts with Hegel, its similarities with Locke, and its defense of freedom of expression against the "tyranny of the majority." x
  • 5
    Emma Goldman and the Anarchist Idea of Freedom
    Here Professor Dennis Dalton contrasts Goldman's anarchism with the liberalism of Mill and the nationalism of Hegel. x
  • 6
    Mahatma Gandhi—Personal and Political Freedom
    Gandhi's concept of freedom examined in the context of his life and leadership of the Indian independence movement. x
  • 7
    Malcolm X’s Quest for Liberation
    An analysis of the life of Malcolm X. His file is compared with Gandhi's in terms of their similar attempts to cope with racist oppression, both moving through stages of personal development that influenced their ideas about freedom and humanity. x
  • 8
    Martin Luther King, Jr.—Stride Toward Freedom
    This lecture will examine King's emphasis on the idea of freedom as seen in his speeches and writings, in the context of the Montgomery bus boycott, and the connection between his theories of freedom and non-violence as compared with Gandhi. x

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Your professor

Dennis Dalton

About Your Professor

Dennis Dalton, Ph.D.
Barnard College, Columbia University
Dr. Dennis Dalton is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University. He earned his B.A. from Rutgers University, his M.A. in Political Science from the University of Chicago, and his Ph.D. in Political Theory from the University of London. Professor Dalton has edited and contributed to more than a dozen publications and has written numerous articles. He is the author of Indian Idea of...
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Freedom: The Philosophy of Liberation is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 23.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not an In-Depth Coverage, but Very Worthwhile I found this set of lectures to be very worthwhile. Starting with ancient India and Greece, and then moving through Locke, Rousseau, Hegel, and John Stuart Mill, various articulations and understandings of the idea of freedom are compared and constrasted. The last four lectures move on to a female activist and three notable people of color: Emma Goldman—an American feminist and Anarchist, Mahatma Ghandhi, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Their life-experiences, influences—some of which were very mutual, and conceptions of the meaning of freedom are presented in an engaging way. Aside from the general content of these lectures, one specific thing that I learned was that both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were both assassinated at 39 years of age...which I found surprising. For some reason—most probably due to not only their impact on society, but because of the great wisdom they expressed—I thought they were both at least in their mid-40s when so wrongfully murdered. In spite of the relatively low rankings, I decided to invest six hours in these lectures, since the content sounded promising, and I now consider that as time very well spent.
Date published: 2019-08-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Guidebook. I am still reading the guidebook, but so far it is very well explained and goes to the main points to keep in mind and remember. I am very well impressed with the Professor of the course and in general with the materials of the Great Courses.
Date published: 2019-02-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best course ever! I have listened to many courses from The Teaching Company, and this little course, though only eight lectures, is the best one I have ever heard. It's interesting and educational, like most courses, but unlike others, this one is inspirational. It makes me want to become a better person.
Date published: 2018-11-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very well done. I bought this recently, and it's very good. I teach philosophy, and Hegel has always been a mystery, but the lecture on his philosophy of freedom was so clear. All very good!
Date published: 2018-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Freedom: Thought and Action This short eight-lecture course is evenly divided into two parts: the first dealing primarily with the meaning of freedom and the second primarily with actions resulting in freedom, usually reflecting one or more of the ideas presented in the first section. The first section begins with defining the meanings of freedom according to writings of ancient Hindus and Greece. The Upanishad and (primarily) the “Bhagavad Gita” are used to provide two ideas that Professor Dalton uses throughout the course. Moving to Greece and the early Christian church, Dr. Dalton shifts to a biographical approach that he uses to make his points for the remainder of the course. He uses Plato (and Socrates) to present the Greeks view of freedom. St. Augustine’s writings are used to present Christ’s view of freedom (“you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”). The first lecture is interesting, though hardly compelling. Things pick up a bit in the next lecture compares and contrasts freedom according to the ideas of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Next is a lecture according to the ideas of Hegel (who has by far my least favorite ideas) and finally a lecture devoted to John Stuart Mill and his seminal work “On Freedom”. In each of these lectures Professor Dalton spends a reasonable amount of time on the life and times of each of these philosophers, before moving on to the specifics of their ideas. The second half of the course devotes one lecture each to four different persons. The first is the anarchist Emma Goldman. Other than the fascinating details given about her early life, I found this lecture oddly out of place in the course, although it is likely fair enough to devote a portion of the course to discussing how anarchists view freedom. The last three lectures are given to Gandhi, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. Clearly Professor Dalton loves presenting all of these persons and their ideas, most especially Gandhi. The lecture I found most interesting was the one on Malcolm X. Although I knew a fair amount about both, it never would have occurred to me that both had such similarities in their lives and in the progression of their views on social interaction and freedom (non-violence excluded). Well-done Professor. I agree with some other reviewers that the design of the course leaves out some interesting persons and ideas. But given eight lectures, the approach taken works very well and is certainly innovative. On a less satisfactory note, I could not download half of the lectures. I was able to listen to them via streaming an acceptable workaround, but as I use TTC audio courses for driving and walking, something I’d not like to see happen very often.
Date published: 2017-06-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Much too biographical an approach for my taste This course looks at several Great Thinkers and what they had to say about the concept of freedom. Those chosen were interesting and relevant, and the professor's commentary continually held my interest. However, the overly biographical treatment of these thinkers, to me, lessened the value of the course. We were invited to understand how the commitments of Gandhi, Emma Goldman, Martin Luther King Jr, and others, were rooted in their childhood and adult experiences. This is valid up to a point. The weakness of this approach is that it doesn't get you thinking as much about the ideas themselves as they deserve. It also doesn't go deeply enough into the cultural or intellectual impact of the thinkers, after their death. And finally, it doesn't help the listener sort through the ideas presented as to which one or ones to adopt for his/her own thinking today.
Date published: 2017-05-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Too Small a Sampling Each of the 8 lectures was interesting and educational. I especially found this to be true for lecture 7 on Malcolm X. However, this is a such a huge topic and so much was left out. But, I wonder if the length of the course was dictated to the professor rather than by the professor. If the length was forced upon him, then his choices are more understandable. The presentation is clear and easy to understand. This is a good course and, when purchased on sale with a good coupon, it's a good value.
Date published: 2015-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enlightening The course outlines thoughts on freedom from Ancient India and Greece to individuals like Jesus and Buddha in the first two lectures. Each subsequent lecture builds upon the themes of the previous lectures and focuses on the thoughts and lives of an individual. The last 5 lectures were all educational and inspiring. It was great to understand, from an intellectual viewpoint, the lives of the 6 individuals highlighted. Overall the course traces the evolution of thought on individual liberty. This is in contrast to the course "A History of Freedom" which highlights events in chronological order. Out of the two I enjoyed "The Philosophy of Liberation" more.
Date published: 2014-01-29
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