Philosophy reading reccomendations on "Notion of freedom and humanity"
January 15, 2013 3:40 AM   Subscribe

A friend of mine recently quit his job and has found himself with a lot of free time. As a method to explore his mind and world he has set himself a task to write an essay on : - "The Notion of Freedom and Humanity" I am no philosophy veteran but I am sure that there must be some great texts already dealing with this subject. What research and reading material can I recommend my friend for his essay?
posted by Cogentesque to Religion & Philosophy (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
"On Liberty" by John Stuart Mill.

This is the definitive text on the subject.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:42 AM on January 15, 2013

Do you know what he means by "freedom and humanity"? The free will vs. determinism topic is well covered by many different philosophers, many of which are accessible to a layperson (e.g., they aren't full of technical jargon).

If he is a bit more trained in philosophy as an academic study, Wittgenstein's On Certainty addresses some of the major themes of a rule-based epistemic response to skepticism, which could very neatly tie into an analytical look at the existence of an external world and how it relates to a person's place within it. Similarly, your friend might want to grapple with Heidegger, and approach the question ontologically (that is, as a case of defining what "being" means). That would lead him to Being and Time, I think.

Neither are terribly approachable to the lay person, however, as they presume familiarity with other primary sources and terms.
posted by ellF at 3:54 AM on January 15, 2013

Libet's experiments and the various commentary on them are interesting.
posted by Winnemac at 4:42 AM on January 15, 2013

Isaiah Berlin's Concepts of Liberty.
posted by zamboni at 5:29 AM on January 15, 2013

Harry Frankfurt's "Freedom of the will and the concept of a person" had a profound effect on my thinking in this area. It's found in his collection "The importance of what we care about", among other places.
posted by nja at 5:47 AM on January 15, 2013

Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom
posted by Bare Ruined Choirs at 5:55 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing Berlin, "Two Concepts of Liberty." This has to do with political philosophy.

If he's more interested in metaphysics, you could do worse than just to find him a collection of classic readings on the free will debate (which will include the Frankfurt piece and many more).

Somebody who treats political and metaphysical freedom together is Philip Petit, A Theory of Freedom (2001).
posted by Beardman at 6:22 AM on January 15, 2013

In addition to the readings suggested by everyone else, I also recommend Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Discipline and Punish as related works that explore the flip-side of freedom via direct and indirect social and cultural mechanisms for enforcing/reinforcing controls on freedom.
posted by skye.dancer at 7:02 AM on January 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

If your friend is somewhat trained in Philosophy, David Hume's 'Enquiry concerning Human Understanding', an amended version of his original 'Treatise of Human Nature' might be relevant. These contain Hume's position of compatibilism toward free will and determinism. I believe that 'Of Liberty and Necessity' is the section that is most frequently read.

As others mentioned, I'm not quite sure what is meant by 'freedom and humanity' so I'm offering work that relates to the question of human freedom versus determinism, which perhaps is related.
posted by sb3 at 9:27 AM on January 15, 2013

Berlin, Hume, Sen and Mill are all great works about liberty and freedom - but they largely approach the topic from a political philosophy perspective, i.e. creating freedom, or figuring out what it is, in relation to how we organize ourselves.

If your friend is looking for something more about personal freedom and how we find liberty from other people on a more metaphysical and phenomenal level, then I must suggest Sartre, Being and Nothingness.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:23 PM on January 15, 2013

Chapter 47 of Mortimer Adler's Syntopicon to the Great Books of the Western World series addresses Liberty (this link is pretty bad, I'm sure there's a better one with a better version of the text out there).

Adler starts with a brief-ish overview of the great thinkers and concludes with an extensive bibliography, including writers that aren't in his "canon."

The reason it's better than some of the more modern, esoteric philosophy professor books out there is that most of those likely presume deep familiarity with philosophical notions in general (though I don't know, philosophy kind of committed suicide last century), and your friend's probably more of an armchair guy. I don't know that you can beat it for what your friend's trying to do.
posted by resurrexit at 12:55 PM on January 15, 2013

Could try Rousseau: "Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains."
posted by swimmingly at 9:44 AM on January 16, 2013

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