PHIL 181 - Philosophical Issues: An Introduction
Section: 001
Term: FA 2009
Subject: Philosophy (PHIL)
Department: LSA Philosophy
Requirements & Distribution:
Credit Exclusions:
No credit granted to those who have completed or are enrolled in PHIL 182, 202, 231, 232, 234, or 297.
Waitlist Capacity:
Other Course Info:
F, W, Sp, Su.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

This course is an introduction to the values, aims, and methods of analytical philosophy through an examination of fatalism — the thesis that whatever happens, nothing else could have occurred instead. If that thesis is true, then the events that will occur, including one’s own acts, are already unavoidable and, thus, inevitable. So, they are already entirely out of one’s hands (and deliberation over what one should do is pointless).

It seems to follow that the belief in free will is an illusion. This result makes the possibility of fatalism troubling, for we (usually) believe ourselves capable of genuinely free choices and, consequently, of acting freely; and it is (usually) important to us that we are correct.

Well, is fatalism true? Philosophers (at least as far back as Aristotle) have argued that it is if certain other beliefs are true. Some philosophers argue that the existence of God is incompatible with human freedom. If God is omniscient, i.e., all knowing, then she knows what you will do before you do it. But if she already knows that you will have an egg salad sandwich for lunch tomorrow, then you won’t be able to do anything else. (Otherwise, God will have been wrong; but if God was wrong, then she didn’t really know that you were going to have egg salad; and if she didn’t know it, then she’s not omniscient.) So, you will eat egg salad tomorrow, but your act, and your choice, won’t be free. (On the other hand, if some of our acts are free, then it follows that God doesn’t exist or, at least, that she is not omniscient.

Others argue that freedom is impossible if the universe operates entirely in accord with natural laws. If every event is the effect of prior causes that determine it to occur exactly the way that it does, then each event must happen precisely as it does. But, each human act is an event. So, your eating egg salad tomorrow already will have been determined by its prior causes to come about just as it does. If so, then, again, you’ll eat your sandwich tomorrow because you won’t be able to do anything other than that. And, your decision/act won’t be a free one.

Finally, a few thinkers argue that the nature of truth and time undermine the possibility of freedom. For, either you will eat egg salad tomorrow or you won’t. Therefore, today’s assertion of the future-tense statement, “I will eat an egg salad sandwich tomorrow” is either true or it is false. If it’s true, then you will eat egg salad tomorrow. If today’s statement is false, then you will not eat egg salad tomorrow. Either way, tomorrow’s outcome, which ever it is, is already determinate and, so, inevitable. Again, you will have no freedom in the matter.

Understanding and assessing these fatalistic arguments will be our primary focus. Toward the end of the term, we’ll consider how troubled we ought to be if fatalism is true. We’ll briefly investigate the nature and importance of happiness and consider whether it is possible if all outcomes are fated.

PHIL 181 - Philosophical Issues: An Introduction
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
TuTh 8:30AM - 10:00AM
002 (LEC)
TuTh 1:00PM - 2:30PM
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