During the 2008-2009 academic year, Phronesis: A Program in Politics and Ethics hosted a lecture series made possible by a grant from DonorsTrust and sponsored by The Honors College and the College of Arts and Sciences (CLASS). The series featured Dr. Jack Rakove, Dr. Tom Pangle, and Dr. Sharon Krause, and addressed these issues:
Liberty, Law, and Institutional Design
The rise of modern liberty raises questions about the arrangement of legal and political institutions: Is there a best constitutional design for liberty? Is a written constitution necessary for limited government? How can constitutionalism accommodate the fact that no written constitution can anticipate every contingency? How can federalism promote free choice without jeopardizing minority rights? What is the best way to balance an independent judiciary with democratic preference?
Free Government and Commercial Society
With its argument for political and philosophic liberties, the Enlightenment included a case for economic freedom. Part of that argument was the claim that societies would be more just by allowing citizens liberty in their economic choices but another was that they would be better off, simply, if they encouraged commerce. These claims have not gone uncontested. In the past, critics have said that commerce is the source of alienation among workers, materialism, and the absence of community. Today, public questions concerning globalization, terrorism, immigration, and natural disaster involve claims about commercial life-not only about what economic liberty should include, but about its preconditions and consequences.
The Ethics of Freedom
That "the individual is sovereign" in all things concerning himself, as long as he or she does not harm another, seems a central principle of a free society. Yet the last decades of the twentieth century have seen this principle come under attack, sending scholars back to early and late Enlightenment thinkers, and even to the Ancient world, for renewed understanding of the foundation and character of human action. But what's inadequate about the prevailing view of individual sovereignty, and what are the implications of a new or renewed understanding of it that would justify limiting political and social authority?