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 Profound Course by a Passionate Professor I thought I had a pretty good idea of what freedom is, but this provocative and insightful course shook me up. The course is short, so I actually listened to it twice. Freedom is an old idea, often transcending national and cultural boundaries. Freedom can be personal, national, and spiritual. Can we have freedom without equality? Professor Dalton takes us on a hero’s journey, examining famous people who explored what freedom might ultimately mean. The last four lectures, strongly biographical, are well thought out and demonstrate how freedom backed with activism can be a powerful force, especially for peace. I feel his best lecture was on Hegel. It was the clearest presentation of Hegel’s philosophy that I have ever encountered. Dr. Dalton personally met and spoke with Malcolm X, and talked with people who were with Gandhi. The professor has also been personally active in civil rights causes outside the classroom, walking his talk. In sum, ‘Freedom: The Philosophy of Liberation’ is sincere and thoughtful. I will never see freedom quite the same way again.
Date published: 2013-03-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Better than I expected! I was a bit reticent to purchase this course based on the title and format of the lectures, but how could you pass up a course for $16? I downloaded this into my iPhone and loved the time I spent listening to this course! These are the old-school lectures that are 45 minutes in length. Good: The introduction where he talks about his hearing Kennedy, and then last three lectures on Gandhi, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. Professor Dalton is passion for these people and their ideas is palpable. However, these lectures were not so informative for me but more like revisiting material with which I was already familiar. NOT good: Emma Goldman? This lecture seemed incongruous. I did not get that she helped the discussion or development of freedom in the way that all the other thinkers did. Professor Dalton talks about the court in relation to Goldman, and what rulings they made because of her. I wish Professor Dalton would have taken this lecture and reviewed the evolution of thinking on freedom within the context of the Supreme Court of the US. That probably has affected freedom more for the average person than has Emma Goldman. GREAT: Locke, Rousseau, Hegel, and John Stuart Mill. I went out and bought books on Rousseau and Mill at a second-hand bookstore with a good philosophy section. I would have gotten Locke and Hegel if they had them. I loved the intellectual grounding that I received on this aspect of the subject. I'm looking forward to doing further research on these philosophers! An interesting synergy: The course I completed just before this one was the Frears course on "Great Books". Two of the books discussed in that course were Mill's "On Liberty" and Gandhi's "Autobiography". The differing yet complementary lectures on these works/people were very enjoyable to me. This is especially so considering that Frears and Dalton seem to be at opposite sides of the political spectrum (emphasis on the word "seem", please). I gave this 5 stars as an 8-lecture introduction. But I left feeling that this course could have been much deeper, and there are probably another 8 philosophers or people who have expanded freedom for humanity that could have been explored. My next course will probably be Frears "History of Freedom". Very enjoyable. Audio download for $16 is a great bargain.
Date published: 2013-01-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent on Gandhi, Malcolm X, and M.L. King One of the benefits of audio courses is that you aren’t required to follow the chronological sequence of the professor’s lectures exactly. For this course, I found the last lectures more interesting, and Professor Dennis Dalton also seemed to be more passionate about contemporary subjects (Gandhi, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King). The early lectures initially felt somewhat dull, so I proceeded to the end and worked backward, more or less. This allowed me to gradually develop a greater appreciation for the early lectures, the more historical subjects. It is difficult to assign numerical ratings to this course because the quality of presentation varied. Overall this is a solid course, but not a stellar course. The final three lectures on Mahatma Gandhi, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King are excellent, passionate, and moving, and they deserve solid fives. Lectures on Mill, Rousseau, and Locke were also very good, and certainly deserve fours at least, if not fives, while lectures on Goldman and Hegel felt genuinely painful. It wasn’t really obvious to me that Emma Goldman even belonged in the same category as the others, since it felt like her ideas may have been more related to the psychological abuse she received as a child rather than a legendary philosophical reasoning. I’m glad the professor discussed ancient concepts of freedom from India. This was a refreshing subject captured in lectures almost exclusively oriented toward the history of western thought.
Date published: 2011-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another Gap Filled! I liked the presentations on John Locke and Jean Jacque Rousseau the best. They provide insight, I believe, into the current political divide in our country. I've tracked down the writings of Locke, Rousseau, and Gandhi since listening to this course, which is something I would never have done otherwise.
Date published: 2011-03-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Faces of Freedom This short course provided an entertaining and fascinating overview of the range of human understanding of freedom reflected in the study of the lives of six important people. From ancient India and Greece to the 1960's of America, the ideals (and reality of) social and individual freedom takes diverse forms - Spiritual Devotion, Nationalism, Individualism, Anarchy and Non-Violent Social Transformation. I was a little skeptical at first how well this course would work (discussing the philosophy of freedom in the context of important biographies), but was quickly won over. Professor Dalton, an engaging speaker, appears to have a real passion for the subject and I felt it was an honor to receive these lectures from someone so directly involved with some of the freedom-struggles of the past century. He is especially passionate and sensitive in covering the last four subjects (activists of the 20 century) - being especially articulate when discussing Gandhi, and the path of individual liberation mirroring the broader social evolution from separatism to inclusiveness. He also speaks movingly and convincingly about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.. However, I was a bit surprised to find that my favorite lecture was on anarchy - a passionate presentation of the passionate rebel Emma Goldman. I agree with the previous reviewer, this course skipped philosophers (and eras) who could be considered essential (not least of which would be the ancient Buddha, and the modern Existentialists), and could easily have been twice as long. But as a short overview it was fine. My suggestion to TTC is to offer some more short courses on specific aspects touched on here - such as Libertarianism and Anarchy.
Date published: 2010-09-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Making Americans feel good The coverage here is inadequate. The first two classes, about Indian philosophy and then the Greek were fine. But then he jumps directly to medieval Christianity - by passing Roman history entirely! He does not mention the Renaissance, the Reformation, or the Enlightenment - all of which made the modern world. At the end he devotes a whole class each to Malcom X and Martin Luther King - hardly heavy-duty thinkers! But my biggest gripe was the omission of the Existentialist philosophers - who had the most to say on the subject of all, in my opinion. But they were not Americans!
Date published: 2010-09-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from $2.50 A Lecture The TC is having a fire sale on this wonderful course. For $20 you get 6 hours of interesting material presented by an interesting lecturer. I have listened to this course three times since I bought it in 2001 and I will listen again - this is course enjoyable education. Professsor D is a captivating lecturer and you will enjioy hearing what he says even when you might disagree with it. This course has an additional virtue - it is short! This course was worth the price I paid nine years ago and at the present bargin basement price it is very much more so - nowhere in the universe of audio teaching is there a more excellent course and bargin all rolled into one. From Plato to Martin Luther King, Dr D outlines the history of political thought and the development of the concept of freedom. Dr D has an additional course, Power Over People which complements this course wonderfully. His lectures in the Great Minds course are among the best. You will enjoy learning what this professor has to teach and you will enjoy his teaching. Don't pass up this TC classic - nobody will ever teach you as much in 45 minutes for $2.50!
Date published: 2010-07-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Short But Sweet ! I enjoyed this Course although at 8 lectures it is probably the shortest Teaching Company course I have listened to or watched. I liked the focus on the history of the individuals, particularly the last 3, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Ghandi. Perhaps a little light on political philosophy and a little heavy on biography, but I enjoyed the course and would recommend it.
Date published: 2010-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant on Gandhi, Malcom X, M. L. King, Jr. I first encountered Professor Dalton in his initial version of POWER OVER PEOPLE: CLASSICAL & MODERN POLICY THEORY. I have relistened to this perhaps 8 times to prime me for class discussions on Plato, Machiavelli, and others. Even more inspirational, for me, is FREEDOM: THE PHILOSOPHY OF LIBERATION. His introductionary lectures are profound. His lectures on Gandhi, Malcolm X, and M. L. King, Jr. are astonishing. Especially on Malcolm X Professor Dalton, who briefly met Malcom X in London after Malcolm's Mecca experience, provides insights that are both fresh and extraordinarily powerful. With so much written about M. L. King, Jr., Dalton provides insights that I find both new and valid. A Wow! I have lent the Malcom X lecture to many of my African-American Students.
Date published: 2009-08-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Average This course on freedom is, in my opinion, is mediocre. It was interesting to learn the biographies of people like Martin Luther King, but I just could not get enthusiastic about this course. If someone wants a brief biography of a few people who advocated freedom, then this course is for you. It is not a bad course, but it left a lot to be desired.
Date published: 2009-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Amazing Concept and it"s Greatest Advocates Dr. Dalton is a terrific speaker and dynamic lecturer.(He even tells jokes during his presentation) He examines the concept of freedom not just from the perspective of the U.S., but from an international focus which includes not only the ancient Greeks but also the ancient Indians and he cites the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. The rest of the course looks at some of the major figures in the philosophy of freedom and liberation. His subjects under examination include Locke, Hegel, Mill, Goldman, King, Malcolm X and Gandhi.(Dr. Dalton is an authority on Gandhi and this particular lecture is excellent.He looks at how freedom from fear and personal liberation as a result of various events from Gandhi's life help to shape his thought.) You will be sorry when these lectures are over, but this is a are truly enriching experience . It is truly one of the Teaching Company's best.
Date published: 2009-03-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding so far!
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Your courses are the best I've ever heard. After a month of listening to your very diverse subjects, I feel "nourished" with knowledge.
Date published: 2008-10-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The course should have been longer.
Date published: 2008-10-17
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