Free Will and Responsibility (Spring 2010) - Syllabus

Free Will and Moral Responsibility

PHIL 3240 | CRN 092244 | T 2:00-4:40 | Room: Anderson Hall 721 | Spring 2010

Course Syllabus

Instructor: Dr. Aaron Smuts | | office hours: 746 Anderson Hall, 2:15-3:00 R


Could pre-cogs predict your holiday plans next year? Or, could a super-intelligent demon with knowledge of the position and projection of every atom in the universe determine what you will have for breakfast next Tuesday?

Just what is free will? Can we make sense of the notion? We will begin the semester by looking at the significance of determinism for free will and moral responsibility. Is determinism true? And if so, is free will compatible with determinism?

Some think that determinism is false and point to putative sources of indeterminacy as the locus of free will. But it is just as difficult to see how indeterminate events could help make anyone responsible for their actions. Wouldn't they be an impediment to our control?

In the next part of the course, we will explore the implications of hard determinism. Would praise and blame make sense if we lack freedom? Without freedom, it seems that we would have to radically reform our views of virtue, vice, love, and friendship. If no one is responsible for their actions, what justifies punishment? If we don't have free will, should we, as some philosophers suggest, actively promote the illusion that we do?

We will examine some psychological research that appears to undermine the prospects for free will. We’ll be talking about Ouija boards, diving rods, split brains, hypnosis, subliminal suggestion, drug addicts, and psychopaths.


There are three required texts for this course:

  1. Robert Kane. A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (Oxford UP, 2005). ISBN-10: 019514970X.

  2. Gary Watson, ed. Free Will (Oxford Readings in Philosophy) (Oxford UP, 2003). ISBN-10: 019925494X

  3. Daniel M. Wegner, The Illusion of Conscious Will (MIT Press, 2003). ISBN-10: 0262731622

I will post numerous additional readings on Blackboard. [BB]


There will be three forms of coursework: (best 20 out of 27) daily quizzes, two papers, and two examinations. I will give a short quiz at the beginning of each class that will require one or two sentence answers. Early in the semester there will be a very short (1 page) paper. This will be used to help improve your philosophical writing. There will be two 5 page papers on assigned topics. There will also be a take-home midterm and a take-home final examination.

Quizzes (10%) + Paper 1 (5%) + Paper 2 (15%) + Paper 3 (25%) + midterm (20%) + final (25%).

Attendance Policy

If you miss 6 or more classes, you will receive a 0 for your quiz grade. If you miss 12 or more classes, you will receive an F for the course.

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism—claiming someone else’s ideas or written work as your own—will not be tolerated. Anyone caught cheating will be given a failing grade in the course.

Class Schedule (tentative)

  • Week 1 (1/19): Introduction; Fate and Karma

    • Kane, ch.1 "The Free Will Problem"

    • Solomon, "On Fate and Fatalism" [BB]

    • Lucian, "Zeus Cross-Examined" [BB]

  • Week 2 (1/26): Divine Foreknowledge and Causal Determinism

    • Kane, ch. 13 "Divine Foreknowledge, and Free Will"

    • Augustine, "Divine Foreknowledge, Evil, and the Free" [BB]

    • Hasker, "God, Time, Knowledge and Freedom" [BB]

    • Pike, "Divine Omniscience and Voluntary Action" [BB]

    • Taylor, "Fate" [BB] (optional) [BB]

  • Week 3 (2/2): Classic Compatibilism

    • Kane, Ch. 2 "Compatibilism"

    • Hume, selections from the Treatise and the Enquiry [BB]

    • Skinner, "Walden Two" (excerpt) [BB]

    • Kai Neilsen, "The Compatibility of Freedom and Determinism" [BB]

  • Week 4 (2/9): Contemporary Compatibilism

    • Kane, ch. 9 "Higher-order Desires, Real Selves and New Compatibilists"

    • Frankfurt, "Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person" [FW]

    • Wolf, "Sanity and the Metaphysics of Responsibility" [FW]

    • Watson, "Free Agency" [FW]

  • Week 5 (2/16): Incompatibilism

    • Kane, ch. 3 "Incompatibilism"

    • van Inwagen, "An Argument for Incompatibilism" [FW]

    • Dennett, "I Could Not Have Done Otherwise - So What?" [BB]

  • Week 6 (2/23): Indeterminism

    • Kane, ch.4 "Libertarianism, Indeterminism, and Chance"

    • Lucretius, "On the Nature of Things" [BB]

    • van Inwagen, "The Mystery of Metaphysical Freedom" [BB]

    • Kaye, "Why the Liberty of Indifference is Worth Wanting" [BB]

  • Week 7 (3/2): Agent Causation

    • Kane, ch. 5 "Minds, Selves, and Agent Causes"

    • Reid, selections [BB]

    • O'Connor, "Agent Causation" [FW]

    • Kane, "Responsibility, Luck, and Chance" [FW]

  • Week 8 (3/8): SPRING BREAK

  • Week 9 (3/16): Agent Causation II

    • Kane, ch. 6 "Actions, Reasons, and Causes"

    • Chisholm, "Human Freedom and the Self" [BB]

    • Ginet, "Freedom, Responsibility and Agency" [FW]

    • Clarke, "Agent Causation and Event Causation" [BB]

  • Week 10 (3/23): Hard Determinism

    • Kane, ch.7 "Hard Determinists and Other Skeptics"

    • Edwards, "Hard and Soft Determinism" [BB]

    • Pereboom, "Determinism al Dente" [BB]

    • Galen Strawson, "The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility" [FW]

  • Week 11 (3/30): Psychology and Neuroscience

    • Wegner, chs. 1-5

  • Week 12 (4/6): Alternate Possibilities

    • Kane, ch. 8 "Moral Responsiblity and Alternative Possibilities"

    • Frankfurt, "Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility" [FW]

    • Fischer, "Frankfurt-Style Compatibilism" [FW]

    • Pereboom, "Determinism al Dente" (sections I-II) [BB]

    • Dennett, "I Could Not Have Done Otherwise - So What?" [BB]

  • Week 13 (4/13): Ethics and Free Will

    • Kane, Ch. 10 "Reactive Attitude Theories"

    • Peter Strawson, "Freedom and Resentment" [BB]

    • Pereboom, "Determinism al Dente" (section VII) [BB]

    • Pereboom, "The Contours of Hard Incompatibilism" [BB]

  • Week 14 (4/20): Punishment

    • Pereboom, "Hard Incompatibilism and Criminal Behavior" [BB]

    • Levy, "The Responsibility of the Psychopath Revisited" [BB]

  • Week 15 (4/27): Illusionism

    • Schopenhauer, on love [BB]

    • (Optional) "Tristan and Isleut"

    • Pereboom, "Hard Incompatibilism and the Meaning of Life"

    • Smilansky, "Free Will, Fundamental Dualism, and the Centrality of Illusion" [BB]

    • Frankl, "Logotherapy in a Nutshell" [BB] (Optional)