Center for Ethics



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Center for Ethics
Fall 2006

Americans have often viewed the United States as the embodiment of freedom in the world.  The notion permeates our daily speech:  “It's a free country.”  Yet what is freedom exactly?   In his state of the union address in 1941, President Roosevelt defined “four essential human freedoms.” The first two describe the capacity to be free to pursue and act on our values and beliefs (freedom of speech and expression and freedom of religion). The second two describe the effort to be free from negative forces that limit our wellbeing:  freedom from want (economic well-being) and freedom from fear (“a world-wide reduction of armaments”).  These “four freedoms” were later included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948.  While often taken for granted or seen as self-evident, freedom has different meanings depending on the historical, social, or cultural context, and ethical questions arise when one freedom risks impinging on another or when individual freedom is in conflict with the welfare of others.  This series will examine how freedom has been defined in different historical moments and viewed by different segments of society who have been denied certain freedoms or have had to fight hard to win them.  It will also raise questions about limitations on freedom.  To what extent do economic or other limitations prevent the exercise of individual autonomy?  Are some of us more free than others?  How should free market values be balanced with the promotion of the free exchange of information and ideas or an equitable distribution of resources?  To what extent does the enjoyment of freedom rest upon an equal acceptance of responsibility?  In what way do we want government to serve as an agent that sets limits on freedoms? Who should decide whether groups demanding independence should be granted political freedom? While the meaning of freedom changes depending on the values with which it is associated, and while competing claims on freedom lead to debate, it is clear that freedom matters.

This series continues into the Spring semester.  Check this site for updates.
Please contact Linda McGuire ( for more information.