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Autonomy and Obligation

Some operate with the assumption that autonomy — freedom, choice, setting one’s own path in the world, feeling a sense of agency and actually having agency — is central to human flourishing. Those folks may have a hard time with the idea of obligation. Others, on the other hand, operate with the assumption that accepting obligations, submitting to what someone (or Someone) else asks of us, acting on behalf of a cause or a purpose greater than oneself, is the noblest way to live. Those folks may have a hard time with the idea of autonomy. The goal of this course is to examine the tension between autonomy and obligation, to understand the ways that Jewish tradition has embraced both, and to envision ways that we might do so ourselves.

Sample Readings

  • Selections from Tanakh, rabbinic texts, and modern Jewish philosophical texts
  • Non-Jewish philosophical texts

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