No credit granted to those who have completed or are enrolled in PHIL 182, 202, 231, 232, 234, or 297.
1. Free Will
We take ourselves to be capable of genuinely free choice and action. When free, nothing makes one act as one does, and it follows that one could have done other than what one actually did.
2. Three Fatalist Arguments
Philosophers have worried that, if true, certain claims about the universe make freedom impossible. Consider two logical principles about the future: (1) either you will eat an egg salad sandwich for lunch tomorrow or you won’t; therefore (2) the future-tense statement that you make today, “I will eat an egg salad sandwich” is either true or it is false. Suppose it is true. Then you will eat egg salad tomorrow, but it also seems to follow that you must. You can do nothing else tomorrow, for that would make today’s true statement false—an absurdity. On the other hand, if today’s statement is false, it seems to follow for the same reasons that you cannot under any circumstances eat egg salad tomorrow. Whether tomorrow’s egg salad is necessary or impossible, you will have no freedom in the matter.
Or consider belief in an omniscient being like God. If God is all knowing, then she knows what you will freely do before you do it. But if she already knows that you will decide tomorrow to lunch on egg salad, then it must be the case that you have egg salad tomorrow; otherwise, she will have been wrong. But it is absurd to claim that she knows what you will do and she is wrong. Yet, if you must have egg salad no matter what, you have no freedom in the matter.
Finally, consider the belief that every event occurs because of prior causes that determine it in strict accord with the laws of nature. Given its causes, then, each event must happen precisely as it does. Humans are parts of the universe, so each act is determined by its causes to occur just as it does. Since one could not have done other than what one did, one never acts freely.
That’s philosophy; reasonable assumptions lead us into startling dilemmas: either freedom is an impossible illusion or universal causation, omniscience, and future truth are. The aim of the class is to get out of these binds if we can. Careful examination may uncover unwarranted beliefs or fallacious inferences. Or there may be another way out of perplexity.
3. Human Happiness
Though the universe or the will is not as we hope, that may not undermine what is most worthwhile in human life—pursuit of what is good. So, the class concludes with an investigation of the nature and importance of happiness.