Syllabus

Course Description
You might think you’ve freely chosen to visit this website. You might think you could, at any given moment, freely choose to do something else. It seems clear to you that what you’ll do next is entirely up to you — but you’re probably wrong. There are powerful philosophical and scientific reasons to think free will is an utterly implausible myth. In this class, we will evaluate these philosophical and scientific arguments. As an advanced introduction to the topic of free will, we will read some of the most important philosophical articles about free will from the past few decades, as well as explore neuroscientific and psychological data relevant to the free will debate. We will discuss psychopaths, drug addicts, kleptomaniacs, hypnosis, split brains, and mind control. We will tackle questions like: What is free will? Why do we value it? Is free will possible in a deterministic world? What are the implications if we lack free will? Can we still live meaningful lives? Would praise and blame make sense? Would punishing criminals be unjustified? If we don’t have free will, should we promote the illusion that we do? In the end, our central aim is to answer the question: how free are you?

Freedom of the Will

September 13 - INTRODUCTION
Harris, Free Will (pp. 1-14)

September 16 - THE CONTOURS OF THE FREE WILL DEBATE
Vihvelin, Compatibilism, Incompatibilism, and Impossibilism

September 20 - EARLY LIBERTARIANISM
Chisholm, Human Freedom and the Self 

September 23 - EARLY COMPATIBILISM
Ayer, Freedom and Necessity 

September 27 - THE CONSEQUENCE ARGUMENT
van Inwagen, The Incompatibility of Free Will and Determinism

September 30 - FREE WILL MYSTERIANISM
van Inwagen, The Mystery of Metaphysical Freedom
O’Conner, The Agent as Cause 

October 4 - MODERN LIBERTARIANISM
Kane, Responsibility, Luck, and Chance

October 7 - MORE MODERN LIBERTARIANISM
Balaguer, Free Will (pp. 58-88)

October 11 - A CRITIQUE OF MODERN LIBERTARIANISM
Frankfurt, Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility 

October 14 - MODERN COMPATIBILISM
Frankfurt, Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person

October 18 - MORE MODERN COMPATIBILISM
Wolf, Sanity and the Metaphysics of Responsibility 

October 21 - A CRITIQUE OF MODERN COMPATIBILISM
Pereboom, Determinism al Dente 

October 25 - FREEDOM AND RESENTMENT
P. Strawson, Freedom and Resentment 

October 28 - IMPOSSIBILISM
G. Strawson, The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility 

November 1 - MORAL LUCK
Nagel, Moral Luck

November 4 - PSYCHOLOGICAL EGOISM
Feinberg, Psychological Egoism 

November 8 - SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY AND FREE WILL
Nahmias, Autonomous Agency and Social Psychology 

November 11 - NEUROSCIENCE AND FREE WILL
Libet, Do We Have Free Will? 
Smith, Taking Aim at Free Will

November 15 - EXPERIMENTAL PHILOSOPHY AND FREE WILL
Nahmias et al., Surveying Freedom 

November 18 - THE CONSEQUENCES OF SKEPTICISM
Vohs & Schooler, The Value of Believing in Free Will  
Baumeister et al., Prosocial Benefits of Feeling Free 

November 22 - ILLUSIONISM
Smilansky, Free Will: From Nature to Illusion

November 25 - FREE WILL AND CRIMINAL PUNISHMENT
Greene, For the Law, Neuroscience Changes Nothing and Everything

November 29 - LIVING WITHOUT FREE WILL
Pereboom, Hard Incompatibilism and Meaning in Life

December 2 - EXAM REVIEW
No readings.