"How Could People Possibly Be Free and Equal?" Liberal Arts Discussion Series with Stephen Walker at Kibbitznest

October 11, 2018 | 6:30 PM - 7:45 PM

Kibbitznest Liberal Arts Discussions are a collaboration with The University of Chicago Graham School to host presentations and discussions of original research.

At one level, the title of tonight’s talk is a rhetorical question. If “freedom” is the ability to act without being overwhelmingly shaped by physical, psychological, and social conditions, then it’s probably a fantasy; if “equality” is some kind of sameness that all people share, then it’s certainly not physical, psychological, or social sameness because people differ radically from each other in all of these ways.

At another level, though, the question isn’t rhetorical. I’ll argue that there is a way to make sense of freedom and equality as something all people possess—but only if we understand these concepts as signifying gaps in our knowledge rather than positive attributes. We can affirm people’s intrinsic freedom and equality, but only as an admission that we generally don’t know why they behave as they do or what strengths and weaknesses they bring with them. While this picture doesn’t yield the kinds of moral and political values we’re used to relying on, it can foster a compassionate and open-minded outlook that may be, in some respects, more important to us than such values.

STEPHEN WALKER is a PhD candidate at University of Chicago Divinity School studying philosophy and the history of philosophy across multiple traditions. His main research focuses on classical Chinese thought; his dissertation, Boundless Ways: Navigating Norms in the Zhuangzi, examines that text's pragmatic and pluralistic critique of value. 

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