Freedom (Fall 2010) - Syllabus

Freedom: Free Will and Moral Responsibility

PHIL 262-04 | ID 10829 | TR 2:00-3:50 | Room: Craig-Lee 052 | Fall 2010

Course Syllabus

Instructor: Dr. Aaron Smuts | | office hours: 219 Alger Hall, 12:30-2:0 TR, after class, and by appointment


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 critically 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, psychopaths, and love potions.


There are six required texts for this course:

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

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

  3. Derk Pereboom, ed. Free Will. Hackett, 2009. ISBN-10: 1603841296. [DPFW]

  4. Robert Kane, ed. Free Will (Blackwell Readings in Philosophy). Blackwell, 2009. ISBN-10: 0631221026. [RKFW]

  5. Sophocles, Theban Plays. Peter Meineck and Paul Woodruff (trans). Hackett, 2003. ISBN-10: 0872205851. [TP]

  6. Joseph Bedier (Author), Hilaire Belloc (Trans). The Romance of Tristan and Iseult. Vintage, 1994. ISBN-10: 0679750169. [RTI]

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


There will be two different forms of coursework: (best 20 out of 27) daily quizzes and three take-home examinations. I will give a short quiz at the beginning of each class that will require a one or two sentence answer. The quizzes are closed-book, but open-note. The bulk of your grade comes from the take-home exams. All assignments must be completed to pass the course.

Quizzes (10%) + first exam (25%) + late-term exam (30%) + final exam (35%).

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. (There are no excused or unexcused absences. But please talk to me if something major comes up that will dramatically effect your attendance.)

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism—claiming someone else’s ideas or written work as your own—will not be tolerated. The tests are not collaborative. All sources must be cited. Outside research is not forbidden, but none of the assignments ask for sources outside the assigned readings. Anyone caught cheating will be given a failing grade in the course. I will also request that you be expelled from the college.

Class Schedule

(There will be a quiz every class on the required reading for that day.)

  • Week 1

    • C1 (8/31) Introduction

      • Kane, ch.1 "The Free Will Problem" [CI]

      • {Optional: Solomon, "On Fate and Fatalism" [BB]}

    • C2 (9/2) Fate

      • Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus [TP]

      • {Optional: Lucian, "Zeus Cross-Examined" [BB]}

  • Week 2

    • C3 (9/7) Predestination and Divine Foreknowledge

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

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

      • {Optional: Hasker, "God, Time, Knowledge and Freedom" [RKFW]}

    • C4 (9/9) Divine Foreknowledge

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

      • {Optional: Taylor, "Fate" [BB]}

  • Week 3

    • C5 (9/14) Causal Determinism and Classic Compatibilism

      • Kane, Ch. 2 "Compatibilism" [CI]

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

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

    • C6 (9/15) Causal Determinism and Classic Compatibilism

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

  • Week 4

    • C7 (9/21) Contemporary Compatibilism

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

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

    • C8 (9/23) Contemporary Compatibilism

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

      • {Optional: Watson, "Free Agency" [GWFW]}

  • Week 5

    • C9 (9/28) Incompatibilism

      • Kane, ch. 3 "Incompatibilism" [CI]

    • C10 (9/30) Incompatibilism

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

  • Week 6

    • C11 (10/5) Indeterminism

      • Kane, ch.4 "Libertarianism, Indeterminism, and Chance" [CI]

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

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

    • C12 (10/7) The Liberty of Indifference

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

  • Week 7

    • C13 (10/12) Agent Causation

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

      • Reid, selections [BB]

      • Campbell, "Has the Self 'Free Will'?" (excerpt from On Selfhood and Godhood) [BB]

    • C14 (10/14) Agent Causation, cont.

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

      • {Optional: Kane, "Responsibility, Luck, and Chance" [GWFW]}

  • Week 8

    • C15 (10/19) Simple Indeterminism

      • Kane, ch. 6 "Actions, Reasons, and Causes" [CI]

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

    • C16 (10/21) Agent Causation, cont.

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

      • {Optional: O'Connor, "Agent Causation" [GWFW]}

  • Week 9

    • C17 (10/26) Hard Determinism

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

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

    • C18 (10/28) The Basic Argument

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

      • {Optional Preview: Pereboom, "Determinism al Dente" [DPFW]}

  • Week 10

    • C19 (11/2) Neuroscience and Free Will

      • Libet, "Do We Have Free Will?" [BB]

      • Wegner, "Brain and Body" [BB]

    • C20 (11/5) Psychology of Conscious Choice

      • Wegner, "The Experience of Will" [BB]

  • Week 11

    • C21 (11/9) Alternate Possibilities

      • Kane, ch. 8 "Moral Responsibility and Alternative Possibilities" [CI]

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

    • C22 (11/10*) Alternate Possibilities

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

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

  • Week 12

    • C23 (11/16) Ethics and Free Will

      • Kane, Ch. 10 "Reactive Attitude Theories" [CI]

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

      • {Optional: Dennett, "I Could Not Have Done Otherwise - So What?" [RKFW]}

    • C24 (11/18) Determinism and Ethics

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

      • {Optional: Pereboom, "The Contours of Hard Incompatibilism" [BB]}

  • Week 13 (Thanksgiving Break: TBD)

  • Week 14

    • C25 (11/30) Punishment

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

      • {Optional: Levy, "The Responsibility of the Psychopath Revisited" [BB]}

    • C26 (12/2) Love and Freedom

      • Bedier, The Romance of Tristan and Iseult (pp. 1-108) [RTI]

      • {Optional: Schopenhauer, on love [BB]}

  • Week 15

    • C27 (12/7) Love and Freedom

      • Bedier, The Romance of Tristan and Iseult (pp. 109-203) [RTI]

      • Pereboom, "Hard Incompatibilism and the Meaning of Life" (pp. 199-204) [BB]

    • C28 (12/9) Illusionism

      • Frankl, "Logotherapy in a Nutshell" [BB]

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

      • Pereboom, "Hard Incompatibilism and the Meaning of Life" (pp. 197-199) [BB]