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Six Kinds of Freedom

This is a talk about a half-dozen conceptions of “freedom” found in human societies from ancient times to the present. It is a term everyone assumes is self-explanatory, has the same meaning at all times, and is easily understood. But in fact, the term has changed meaning innumerable times, usually according to changing historical, moral, and political context. For example, in ancient times, its most prevalent political and moral meaning had nothing to do with individual free choice – its most prevalent meaning today. Rather, it meant “not being a slave”, and back then, slaves themselves would have scorned our modern notion that the most important meaning of freedom is “choice”. For what good is choice when you are a slave? The meaning of freedom is like a mirror of the human community using the word.

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