Want to understand historic ideals such as toleration, universalism and freedom of conscience – and why they remain important today? Believe we should engage widely with all art and literature, no matter how unsettling the content may be? Concerned about attacks on civil liberties or that writers and thinkers are being cancelled for their views?

If so, then this short course of talks and discussions will appeal to you. 

‘What can we learn from…?’ evenings are organised by Living Freedom school and supported by Free Speech Champions. Taking important thinkers from the past, they offer an opportunity for students to explore and debate important ideas and crucial issues of the present. 

Short, accessible talks from experts and critics will offer insights into key thinkers. From John Locke to Hannah Arendt, and John Milton to CLR James, you will get to grips with the best that has been thought and said over the centuries. Talks will be followed by plenty of time for discussion, offering the chance to ask questions and interrogate why these thinkers offer valuable insights to help us understand many important contemporary issues.

You can come to one talk or both, it’s up to you.


Space is limited. To reserve a place, please email Professor Arif M Ahmed ama24@cam.ac.uk


Tuesday 1 November, 7.15pm-9.15pm

1: John Locke and Toleration – Piers Benn, philosopher, author and lecturer
It was only in the 17th century that society started to tolerate competing religions and beliefs. Today, values of tolerance and respect are regularly upheld. But some argue that tolerating free expression has its limits and society should not be placed at risk of intolerant ideas or even overly judgemental views. Should we tolerate free expression, or retain a right to be intolerant of intolerance? 

2: Milton and Liberty – Andrew Doyle, author, The New Puritans
“Give me liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience”, declared the poet John Milton in Areopagitica. Often associated with 17th-century non-conformist Puritans, Milton rejected licensing of printed texts and rebuffed the notion that prohibitions, bans or force could create virtuous men. Today, amidst the rise of a new puritanism, being offensive can be deemed an offence, demands for ‘social justice’ brook no dissent while uttering uncomfortable truths can lead to public shaming. From the ages of the Puritans, old and new, what can we learn about the case for freedom of belief and expression?  

Tuesday 29 November, 7.15pm-9.15pm

3: Hannah Arendt and Totalitarianism – Jacob Reynolds, convenor, Hannah Arendt Study Group
Whether prompted by concerns over draconian lockdowns, new authoritarian political leaders, policing of speech or outlawing demonstrations, there’s been a revival of interest in Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. From views on the destruction of individuality to the desire for safety, Arendt was never shy of challenging orthodoxies and addressing profound moral questions. What can Arendt tell us about the problems with freedom today?  

4: CLR James and Universalism – Ralph Leonard, writer 
As a Marxist revolutionary and Pan-Africanist, critic of European colonialism and respecter of Western civilisation, classicist and lover of popular culture, CLR James specialised in confounding expectations. Today, when praise for ‘Western culture’ is often dismissed as ‘Eurocentrism’ and identity silos trump a sense of our shared humanity, is a universalist outlook and an emphasis on what we have in common worth defending? What can we learn from a man once labelled ’the black Plato’? 


Gonville and Caius College
Trinity St, Cambridge CB2 1TA
See Google Maps for location.
Lectures: Long Room
Seminars: Long Room, Senior Parlour Room


presenter, Free Speech Nation, GB News; author, The New Puritans: how the religion of social justice captured the Western world
Andrew Doyle is a writer, comedian, and a presenter on GB News. He is the author of Free Speech and Why It Matters (2021) and The New Puritans: how the religion of social justice captured the Western world (2022). He is the creator of the satirical character Titania McGrath, who has published two books – Woke: a guide to social justice (2019) and My First Little Book of Intersectional Activism (2020).  He began presenting his show Free Speech Nation on GB News in June 2021. Before then he was a columnist for spiked, a panellist on the BBC’s Moral Maze and regularly reviewed the papers on Sky News.

philosopher and lecturer; author, Intellectual Freedom and the Culture Wars
Piers teaches philosophical ethics at Fordham University London Centre and his latest book is Intellectual Freedom and the Culture Wars.  His interests include ethics, philosophy of religion and philosophy of psychiatry and he has taught at numerous universities including St Andrews, Imperial College London and King’s College London. During the 1990s, he organised seminars for students in Poland and the Czech Republic, in collaboration with host institutions struggling to rebuild education after the communist period. He is a regular media commentator.

writer; author, Letter on Liberty:  Unshackling Intimacy contributor, Areo Magazine
Ralph is a British-Nigerian writer and commentator on international politics, culture and sex. He is the author of the Letters on Liberty pamphlet Unshackling Intimacy, writes for UnHerd, Areo and the Telegraph, and is a regular guest on the Zer0 Books podcast. He also writes on religion, human rights and international affairs. As an ardent secularist and leftist, Ralph believes it is crucial to uphold the legacy of the Enlightenment, and the project for the universal emancipation of humanity.

convenor, The Academy; external affairs manager, boi charity
Jacob is partnerships manager at the Academy of Ideas. He read the BPhil in philosophy at St Cross College, Oxford, developing an interest in political and continental philosophy, especially the work of Hannah Arendt. Before that, Jacob read politics and philosophy at the University of Sheffield and co-ran the Sheffield Salon, modelled on the salons of Enlightenment Europe. He spends his spare time drinking coffee, writing and arguing about philosophy.


reader in philosophy, University of Cambridge
Arif is a reader in philosophy at Cambridge, where he writes on rational choice, Wittgenstein and religion. He was previously at Birmingham University and has held visiting positions at Pisa, Sydney University and MIT. Arif has campaigned for free speech in universities for over a decade, most recently when he led a campaign to liberalise Cambridge’s free-speech policy. He has two forthcoming publications, Evidential Decision Theory (Cambridge University Press) and The Value of the Future (Princeton University Press).

convenor, Living Freedom
Alastair is the convenor of Living Freedom and secretary of the boi charity. As associate director of the Academy of Ideas, he coordinates planning and programming across projects, and is co-convenor of the Battle of Ideas festival. Alastair is an experienced cultural programmer having worked in the UK and internationally to develop festivals, exhibitions and curated programmes. He is co-editor of The Lure of the City: from slums to suburbs.