About October 2018
In ancient Rome, Epictetus was a slave; Marcus Aurelius was an emperor. Today they are recognized as two of the greatest exponents of Stoic philosophy. Epictetus and Aurelius grace our banner because this month we propose to talk about a topic where both had much to say: the relationship between inner and outer freedom.
All over the world, great religious and moral traditions have constantly likened these two kinds of freedom. It is good, say these traditions, not to be a slave. But just as slavery to another person is bad, so too is slavery to one’s own thoughts, passions, or instincts. Arguments of this kind can be found in Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and many other religions. They can also be found in ancient Stoic philosophy and in many forms of liberalism.
But how do inner and outer freedom relate to one another? Is the relationship more than just metaphorical? Can the good life be had on inner freedom alone? Can a good society exist without it? If the two freedoms must in some sense go together, then how is that cooperation achieved? Does the pursuit of inner freedom entail limits to social freedom, or rather the opposite?
Lead essayist William Irwin draws on diverse philosophical traditions including existentialism, Stoicism, and Buddhism to make the case that inner and outer freedom are not only compatible, but harmonious. Joining him to discuss is a slightly larger than usual contingent of philosophers, including the Cato Institute’s own Aaron Ross Powell and Tom G. Palmer, plus Professor Stephen Asma of Columbia College Chicago, and Prof. Mark D. White of the College of Staten Island/City University of New York.