The series of lectures is a passionate critique of modern mass culture with frequent references to contemporary politics and Hollywood films. Blade Runner, 1982 science fiction, get mentioned quite a few times in particular.
Do not expect a systematic, structured exposition of the topic, rather it’s an engaging series of lectures, more concerned with making ideas relevant to our present situation than getting the subject matter across.
Rick defines his personal position on values as fallibilist, it is to have strong beliefs about human values but without a further belief that you cannot be mistaken.
Starting with Socrates and his life of inquiry, he explains Greek values and the ideal of excellence. Moves on to how Epicureanism is associated more with the rising Roman empire while Stoicism with the declining.
He presents the two dominant modern ethical theories: Kant’s Categorical Imperative and Mill’s Utilitarianism. While having more admiration for Kant’s theory, Rick points out that neither theory is completely satisfactory.
Mill valued freedom too much to leave it at the mercy of his utilitarianism, so he came up with the harm principle, which is in some tension with his original theory. Harm principle only allows for coercion of individual by society to prevent harm to others.
But this conception of freedom by Mill is very thin, wholly negative. Freedom should be such that it enables you and gives you a real choice, not just an illusion of it.
When it comes to Hegel, each epoch in history defines freedom in its own terms. Left wing Hegelian, Karl Marx, expanded on this and developed a thorough criticism of Capitalism and a new ideal of freedom.
Finally, Rick talks about Nietzsche, master of suspicion, and then Kierkegaard, one of the most profound modern Christian thinkers.