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“Do We Have Free Will?”


By Frank Simons

The Meditation Center presents the 24-part Great Courses series Philosophy of Mind: Part 18, “Do We Have Free Will?” at 5:30pm on Thursday, October 5, at the Center, Callejon Blanco 4.

Throughout the course about minds and machines, a philosophical issue has been brewing in the background, an issue we will take on directly: the issue of free will and Determinism.

Every event in the universe is the effect of previous causes in accordance with physical law. Every action I take is an event in the physical universe. Therefore, each of my actions must be dictated by previous causes, including causes before my birth. If so, how can my actions be genuinely free? How can I be held responsible for things over which I have no control? This is the core of the Determinist argument against free will, an argument that has divided philosophers since the Stoics.

Compatibilists contend freedom is simply the ability to do what you want, free from coercion. If so, you may act freely even if your actions are the result of causal laws and earlier events. Once we understand what free will really is, the Compatibilist says, we will see that free will and Determinism are compatible after all.

The problem of free will is an issue just about everyone has raised in his own thinking. The core of the philosophical problem is a clash between two basic concepts. On one side are our concepts of ourselves as facing options and making choices. On the other side of the clash are our concepts of a universe that operates in terms of natural laws.

In 1924, Clarence Darrow used the problem of free will in defending Leopold and Loeb, successfully converting their sentence from hanging to life imprisonment. Free will has a long history of philosophical disagreement.

The Stoics thought that effective free will was an illusion. The Epicureans thought free will had to be true. Kant says the issue is antimony[P1] —a conceptual conflict rationally irresolvable. William James comes down on the side of freedom but renounces any attempt to prove free will. Jean-Paul Sartre builds his Existentialism around a commitment to freedom but gives no explanation of how it is possible.

The issue of free will is often expressed as if one has it or not. We also speak of being more or less free. Do you think some people are more free than others? In what ways? And why?

Patrick Grim, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, has provided his students with invaluable insights into issues of philosophy, artificial intelligence, theoretical biology, and other fields. Professor Grim was awarded the university’s Presidential and Chancellor’s awards for teaching excellence and was elected to the Academy of Teachers and Scholars.

There will be an opportunity for discussion following the video.

Presentations of the Center are offered without charge. Donations are gratefully accepted.


Video Presentation

Philosophy of Mind: Part 18, “Do We Have Free Will?”

Thu, Oct 5, 5:30pm

Meditation Center

Callejon Blanco 4

Free, donations accepted


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