FYS: Free Will: Illusion? (PHIL 76H)

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Instructor: John Roberts. This first years honors seminar meets on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9:00 – 9:50 a.m. in Caldwell 213.

Most of us believe that our actions are up to us, in a way that makes us responsible for them, and that makes it reasonable to praise us when they are good and blame us when they are bad.  But there are a number of arguments that seem to show that this is a mistake; some of the arguments come from logic, and some from science.

Is our belief in freedom of action compatible with the modern picture of ourselves as being controlled by our genes, our inborn traits of character, and by our environments? If that freedom is compromised, then are we as responsible morally and legally for our actions as we, and society, tend to think? We will attempt to clarify these questions through group discussions and analysis of compelling writings on the mind-body problem and the controversy over whether “free will” is an illusion. We will also develop some skills in formal logic to use as tools in analyzing classical and contemporary arguments about free will.  Throughout the semester students will develop and defend their own considered views on the subject. A seminar format will encourage active participation in informal discussions and in brief presentations that provide each student with an opportunity to express his or her reactions to these issues. Course requirements include at least one seminar presentation, several short written assignments, one longer paper, and a final examination.

John Roberts’s webpage