1. John Stuart Mill says that he is not discussing liberty of the will, but civil or social liberty. What is the distinction he is making? Could someone like Pereboom who is a hard incompatibilist accept Mills political views? Or would his stand in opposition to free will commit his to be opposed to Mills political liberty? Would Staces compatibilism require him to accept Mills political views? Or could he favor free will, while opposing Mills political liberty? In other words, are they two separate issues? Or does your position of free will influence your position on political freedom, and vice versa?2. Descartes, Parfit, and Dennett raise the issue of whether I, a unitary self that persists over time, exist. Descartes arrives at an Ego theory that Parfit and Dennett both reject. Explain how Descartes arrives at his concept of the self after initial skepticism. Explain how Parfit and Dennett criticize this Ego theory. Then explain why it is important to solve this problem, i.e., what the implications of accepting the Ego Theory or rejecting it are for how we live our lives and for our religious beliefs. Do the same for the Bundle Theory. Remember, the authors are offering arguments that are designed to convince their audiences of their positions. They are not just offering opinions.3. Richard Taylor argues for a subjective criterion for the meaning of life; but Plato argues that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” which would seem to be an objective criterion for a meaningful life. Explain the differences between Plato and Taylor, including Plato’s argument for his criterion and Taylor’s reasons for his rejection of objective criteria like Plato’s. Remember, the authors are offering arguments that are designed to convince their audiences of their positions. They are not just offering opinions.Week 2: The Apology
Socrates speech in The Apology is the defense’s rebuttal at a criminal trial. As such it has to be read
rhetorically; i.e., if it is like any other defense, it is a speech that is aimed at a particular group of
people with certain beliefs and feelings that is intended to sway the group into finding the defendant
not guilty. If this is indeed Socrates’ task, then he is, in fact a miserable rhetorician, since not only
does the jury find him guilty, but by an even larger margin the jury sentences him to death. Of
course, Socrates may already have decided that he could not convince his audience or may have
been uninterested in whether or not they found him guilty. In which case, Socrates’ rhetorical task is
an open question.
In addition, The Apology is authored by Plato, not Socrates. We have no idea of how close the
words spoken by Socrates in The Apology are to the actual defense used by Socrates at his trial.
This means that if we are to read The Apology rhetorically, we need to ask about Plato’s audience
and what he is trying to accomplish with that audience. The Apology was written after the death of
Socrates. So, at best, he could only be trying to clear Socrates name, not reverse the conviction. If
this is the rhetorical purpose of the piece, then it is wildly successful, since Socrates’ name is often
linked with that of Jesus as an innocent martyr, largely as a result of Plato’s dialogues. In addition to
clearing Socrates’ name, Plato is also interested in justifying a life devoted to philosophy.
We thus have two rhetorical levels on which The Apology is supposed to work, as a defense of
Socrates from criminal charges and as a defense of the type of life that Socrates was leading from
those who oppose his philosophical enterprise. This latter defense has come to be known as an
Apologia pro Vita Sua, an Apology for your Life. An Apology is not saying you are sorry, but
providing a defense of a certain type of life, in this case, a life devoted to philosophy. So, as we
move through The Apology, we will have to read the text as if it were addressing at least two
different audiences with at least two different purposes. This is assuming that the speech is
designed to accomplish one or both of these obvious tasks. Overall, we need to be asking the
question of what exactly is Socrates’ task and what is Plato’s task relative to their respective
audiences? Finally, there is the problem that Socrates begins his defense by claiming that he is not
interested in rhetoric, but only the truth, which, of course, may only be a rhetorical ploy. In any case,
he is trying to differentiate himself from a group called the Sophists (wise men) who, according to
Socrates, are not interested in truth, only in winning arguments, and who trained students to become
skilled in arguing court cases.
Socrates begins by explaining the reason that people in Athens are hostile to him. It is because he
goes around questioning those who claim to be wise, trying to see whether they really had wisdom.
Now, we may not think of politicians and poets as sources of wisdom today; but in Socrates’ time,
the politicians were the best and brightest in the society, and the poets (which included all writers)
were considered the intellectuals of society. If these people were not wise, then no one in society
was wise. This quest of Socrates for wisdom is literally philosophy (Philo [love] Sophia [wisdom]),
and distinguishes Socrates from the Sophists (wise men). Socrates is, then, a searcher after
wisdom, who uses the method of cross-examination to search for wisdom. While Socrates feigns
ignorance, we can see from his cross-examination of Meletus that there is a positive doctrine behind
the questions. Meletus claims progressively that the laws, the jury, the entire population of Athens
knows how to live correctly, and that only Socrates is a corruptor of the youth. But, this makes right
behavior relative to the beliefs of the population. Socrates suggests that what is needed is an
“expert.” In other words, right behavior is not subjective, varying from person to person or society to
society, as many people today believe, but it is something that can be objectively known by means
of philosophical study. Socrates’ teaching, then, is focused on how to live a good life, and his
assumption is that there is something that can be called a “good life for a human being” that can be
discovered through philosophy. Not only is a good life possible, but it is preferable to a dishonorable
life. So, dishonor is worse than death, and the good life is concerned with the well being of the soul.
But, philosophy is not only good for the individual, but good for the society, as well, since it produces
good citizens. Here, Socrates assumes that there is no conflict between what is good for the
individual and what is good for society. But, if philosophy is good for both the individual and society,
why has Socrates been put on trial, and why doesn’t everyone become a philosopher? It is because
philosophy is a painful process of reexamining our comfortable beliefs. Socrates sees himself as a
horsefly stinging sleeping people into consciousness of what is right. People will always try to swat
the fly that is causing them pain—-in this case, Socrates—because they prefer comfort to truth.
(Elsewhere, he compares himself to a midwife, giving birth to ideas, and childbirth is an even more
painful experience.) Most of the students in this class were in favor of leading an examined life.
However, examining and maybe abandoning some of your most cherished beliefs can be very
painful. Philosophy may not be fun. But Socrates is more concerned with leading a good life, than a
fun life. For him, a life devoted solely to pleasure is a life suitable more to an animal than a human
being. This semester, we will be questioning the existence of God, the existence of the self, and the
very meaning of life. Unlike my presentation of philosophy, which discusses philosophy as primarily
an intellectual process of conceptual analysis, Socrates discusses philosophy as a form of therapy, a
painful exercise in questioning our most fundamental beliefs. Socrates would agree with my
presentation which claimed that philosophy is concerned with the concept that we use to talk about
the world. However, he would say that examining these concepts is emotionally trying. It is an
exercise that may put you into conflict with your friends, your family, and with your society. All
societies have conventional values and challenging those values can get you killed, as Socrates
discovered. No religion wants you to challenge the premises upon which it is built. You risk
becoming a heretic or an atheist. Socrates is, after all, accused of being both. Philosophy is
dangerous because in challenging the concepts we use to understand the world it can lead us into a
life of rebellion against society. Still Socrates maintains that however painless it may be, the
unexamined life is not worth living (or putting it in a less dramatic fashion: the examined life is better
than the unexamined life), and that the life of the spirit is more important than the life of the flesh. He
believes that some lifestyles are simply better than others and that contrary to what many people in
the class said, some people may simply not be able to lead a good life. Plato is arguing that a life
without self examination is more suited to an animal rather than a human being. To lead a truly
human life (which is not necessarily the most pleasant life) you must lead the life of a philosopher.
As John Stuart Mill (whom we will be studying this semester) said: “Better a Socrates unsatisfied
than a pig satisfied.”
Week 9: Weekly Comments —Free Will-Determinism
Most people believe that we have free will; but the question is: how is that possible given that our
actions appear to be determined by some combination of our genes and environment? The free willdeterminism problem can be stated very easily; but there is no easy solution to the problem. If our
actions are causally determined by some combination of genes and the environment, then we don’t
have free will and we are not responsible for our actions. However, if we have free will, then our
actions are not determined by our genes and environment, in which case psychology is impossible,
because we are by definition unpredictable. We need to hold people responsible for their actions and
we believe that a science of psychology is possible; but explaining how both are possible at the
same time seems impossible. That’s the problem. There is also a religious version of the problem for
the Abrahamic religions. God cannot hold us responsible for our actions, unless we have free will;
but God knows everything that was and everything that will be. If God knows what we will do in the
future, then our actions are already determined, which means that while we think we are making
choices and may agonize over choices, what we will do is already determined, even our agonizing
indecision. Free will is then an illusion. The Abrahamic religions teach us both that God knows the
future and that we have free will; but how is that possible?
Our textbook considers two responses to the problem of free will: Compatibilism—-the view that we
can have both determinism and moral responsibility (Stace) and Incompatibilism—the view that we
can’t have both determinism and moral responsibility (Pereboom). The text does not consider
Libertarianism because almost no philosopher wants to deny that our actions can be explained
causally. That would put psychology and the other social sciences out of business. (The exception is
existential psychology, which claims that our actions are often predictable because we don’t want
the responsibility that goes with freedom and play roles instead. However, existential psychology
had its heyday in the 1960s and 70s and is mostly rejected today by academic psychologists.) The
question therefore comes down to can I be held morally responsible for my actions, if my actions are
causally determined? Pereboom takes a position that he calls “hard incompatibilism,” which claims
that determinism is incompatible with free will and with moral responsibility. In other words,
Pereboom is asking us to give up our notion of personal responsibility. He then proceeds to try to
prove that responsibility is incompatible with what we know about human behavior, while at the
same time trying to prove that this doesn’t have the bad consequences for our ordinary moral
concepts that we would expect. He begins by imagining 4 scenarios for one person killing another,
whom he calls after characters from the board game Clue. We would not hold Professor Plum
responsible for killing Ms. White, if scientists had put electrodes in his brain which controlled his
actions. Likewise, we would not hold him responsible if he had been programmed from an early age
to commit this crime. He would also not be held responsible if he had been brainwashed from an
early age through parental and community training. However, if determinism is true, then this is
exactly what our lives are like—–we have been determined by some combination of genes and the
environment to behave the way we do. Therefore, we are no more responsible for our actions than if
we were programmed by evil scientists. Now, some people claim that we are agents that freely
cause our actions; but if that were true, there would be some events that are uncaused; which
throws macro-physics out the window. (Scientists now believe that there can be uncaused events on
the subatomic level.) In short, there is no free will and there is no personal responsibility. But,
doesn’t this mean that we can never punish people? No, says Pereboom. What we rule out is
retribution, not deterrence. We can still judge that some people are engaging in antisocial behavior
that needs to be corrected, and our punishments should be designed to make changes in evildoers’
behavior. If we can accomplish this by positive reinforcement, so much the better. After all, if
determinism is correct, then we should be able to redesign the environment in order to eliminate bad
behavior. Even if we just quarantine people in a prison, that is justified by the same logic that allows
us to quarantine people with infectious diseases, even if they are not responsible for their disease.
But, if we are not responsible for our bad behavior, doesn’t that mean that we cannot be proud of our
good behavior and accomplishments? No, says Pereboom. We are often proud of things that are
independent of our will—our intelligence, our physical beauty, our native athletic ability, etc. Even if
people did not literally deserve praise, it would make sense to praise them, since it would serve to
encourage positive forms of behavior. How about our reactive abilities—-forgiveness, guilt, love,
gratitude? Surely, we would lose the ability to feel these emotions, and these seem essential for our
moral consciousness. Once again, Pereboom argues that this is mistaken. Forgiveness seems to
presuppose that the other person is blameworthy. But, we could still recognize that the other person
did wrong and now felt sorry for what s/he did. Thus, we could forgive them, even if they are not
blameworthy. Likewise, we could still feel remorse and guilt, if we recognized that we were guilty of
wrongdoing. We can still feel gratitude for things that people do for us, even if we know that it was
not done freely. What about love? But, don’t we already know that love cannot be willed and that we
are attracted to people independent of our will? Incompatibilism also has moral and social
advantages. If we recognize that actions are determined, we are less likely to become angry at other
people, which is good because this type of anger often leads to destructive social relationships. As
the proverb goes: To know all is to forgive all. What Pereboom has done is to think of all the possible
objections to the claim that hard incompatibilism is inconsistent with our normal moral notions and
responded to them one at a time.
Stace, on the other hand, is a compatibilist. He believes that we can have hard determinism and also
keep our everyday notions of free will and moral responsibility. For Stace, the problem concerns the
definition of free will. If free will means “uncaused,” then we would have to say that there is no free
will, since every action has some cause. The question is whether the cause is an internal
psychological motivation or external physical constraint. Not eating because I am in the desert where
there is no food is different than not eating because I want to lose weight. Confessing to a crime
because I was beaten is different than confessing to a crime because I feel guilty. I am responsible
for my actions, if the cause is psychological (internal); but I am not responsible for my actions, if the
cause is physical restraint (external).
For Stace, the solution to the free will-determinism problem is very simple and he can’t understand
what all the fuss is about. Everyone would prefer Stace’s response because we would all like to
believe that free will and responsibility for our actions are compatible with causal determinism. We
can have our cake and eat it too. The problem with Stace’s easy answer is that while it is true that
there is a difference between internal and external causes, as Stace notes, there are genetic and
environmental causes for our psychological states, and therefore, for our behavior. So, it could be
argued that since our internal states are caused by external causes, we are not responsible for our
psychological structure and for the behaviors that result from those psychological states. This is
exactly what Pereboom argues. While we might feel free, we are not actually free to choose our
psychological character or the actions that flow from that character. Pereboom might further argue
that Stace is confusing social and political freedom with free will. You can be legally allowed to do
something, but not have the free will to do it and you can have the free will to do something with out
having the political freedom to do it. The question of political freedom is the basis for next week’s
reading. You will notice that Mill distinguishes between freedom of the will and political freedom,
claiming that he is addressing the latter.
Week 10: Comments —On Liberty
Everyone is in favor of the maximum amount of liberty in the abstract. However, when we get to
specific issues like prostitution or drugs many people want to keep them illegal, although there are a
variety of views in the class, just as there are about tobacco and vaccinations. John Stuart Mill is one
of the greatest political philosophers of all time. His small book, On Liberty, from which this selection
is taken, is the starting point for any discussion of political liberty. Mill is a libertarian who argues that
the only reason to interfere with another person’s choices is if the conduct would be detrimental to
society or another individual. So, Mill would say that a person has a right to take whatever drugs
they want, since this only affects themselves; but they do not have the right to drive under the
influence of drugs, since that might harm another. Many people who argue in favor of this stance
argue based on individual rights. However, Mill is a utilitarian, who believes that the sole justification
for ethics is the greatest good for the greatest number. Following his godfather, Jeremy Bentham,
who said that rights were nonsense and natural rights were nonsense on stilts, Mill believed that the
greatest amount of freedom for the individual was compatible with the greatest happiness for
society. This appears to be counter-intuitive, though, since legalizing drugs and prostitution appears
to make society worse and making tobacco illegal and requiring people to get flu shots appears to
make society better. If you don’t like those examples, how about laws preventing people from selling
themselves into slavery or selling one of their kidneys? How about requirement to use seat belts in
cars and helmets when riding motorcycles? Mill’s argument is that it is only through the competition
of ideas and lifestyles that individuals and societies are able to grow and develop. While in the short
run, policies that allow for the greatest individual freedom might lead to more unhappiness, since
people might make foolish choices, in the long run the happiness and well being of individuals and
societies is dependent on the development of the individual, which is only possible with complete
liberty of ideas and lifestyle choices. So, Mill argues that it is only when people get to try out different
lifestyles and when different ways of thinking compete for general acceptance that the society and
individuals are able to develop the best lifestyles and the best ideas. In other words, Mill is arguing
that maximizing political liberty in society is necessary for society to progress. Mill is reacting to
those closed societies that were ruled by religious leaders who prevented the growth of science
when it conflicted with their theology and that punished new ways of living and new religious ideas
as blasphemy. Think of what life would be like if we were ruled by the Taliban or Daesh. Legalizing
drugs and prostitution in Holland has not had the effect that many people predicted. (Although one
might wonder if prostitution is a free choice, when women are driven to it by economic necessity.)
Legalized prostitution in any case, has not led to the breakdown of the family or to the spread of
STDs. Mill’s assumption is that if different ideas and lifestyles compete, people will eventually
choose the best ones. If we lived in a society that prevented the growth of new ideas and lifestyles,
we would not develop as individuals or as a society. So, while some ideas and lifestyles might injure
both people and society in the short run, people will learn over time to avoid those ideas and
lifestyles that are injurious, and will be able to develop the best ideas and lifestyles in the long run.
The religious conservative response is that people are naturally sinful, and if we do not put
restrictions on behavior, people will act in a sinful manner, which will ultimately undermine society.
Likewise, Evolutionary psychologists argue that certain patterns of behavior are programmed into us
by our genes which might be detrimental to society and need to be restricted by law. The debate is
therefore a debate about human nature. If human beings and societies learn from experience, and
use that experience to grow as people and societies, then Mill is right. On there other hand, if we are
naturally drawn to behavior that is detrimental to both ourselves and to society, then maximizing
liberty will lead to destroying both ourselves and society.
By the way, students are still confusing free will with political freedom. Free will is a question of to
what extent our behavior is controlled by some combination of genes and environment. Political
freedom is concerned with the extent to which our behavior is restricted by the government. You
could have few laws governing you (political freedom); but still be restricted in your behavior by a
combination of genes and environment (determinism). You could be free from genetic or
environmental control (free will) and still have the government restricting your behavior through laws
(politically unfree). The debate about free will is a question about whether you can act independently
of genetic and environmental influence. The debate about political freedom is a debate about how
restrictive the laws of the country should be. One is a question in metaphysics and the other is a
question in ethical theory.
Week 12: Weekly Comments —Who am I? Parfit
This seems to have been particularly difficult for most of the class, and I seem to have hit a nerve
with this week’s reading. Virtually everyone in the class strongly believes that s/he has a self, and
certainly our language and everyday actions support this view. The problem is that when we
examine this concept we can find no basis for this belief. Our minds and bodies are constantly
changing, so that I am totally different than I was when I was a child. I now know things I didn’t know
when I was younger, and I have forgotten things I knew when I was young. Am I the same person I
was years ago? If I am the same person, just what is it that makes me the same? The question is
whether there is anything more to us than transitory thoughts and feelings. This week and next we
will consider skeptical arguments about the self. Parfit argues that contemporary psychological split
brain experiments support the view that while we feel that we have a self that remains the same and
underlies all other changes, there really is no self. If two consciousnesses were in the same body,
then there would be no unified self, which is what happens when someone has split brain functions.
The view Parfit is challenging (which he calls the Ego Theory) comes, of course, from Descartes; but
it is also the view that underlies Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, because if there is no self, then
there is no soul, and there is no possibility of surviving death. The self is what we refer to when I am
talking about myself, something that remains me, even though some aspects of me are constantly
changing. Parfit’s view (which he labels the Bundle Theory) comes from the important 18th Century
skeptical Scottish philosopher David Hume, and also forms the basis for the Buddhist theory of the
no self. Parfit’s example of teleportation can be updated by reference to the Arnold Schwarzenegger
movie The 6th Day. In this movie, Schwarzenegger is wrongly presumed dead and a clone of him,
with his complete memory, is made to replace him. So, there are 2 identical Schwarzeneggers
running around trying to resolve the issue of which is the real one. In the movie, it is decided that the
original is the “real” one; but if they are identical in every way, what can it mean to say that the
original is any more your real self than the copy? If you disappear in one place and reappear in
another with exactly the same body and mind, is that still you? It doesn’t matter that it is impossible
to copy our memories (although one day it might be possible). Parfit argues that his transporter
argument is the same as real life, that we are nothing more than a bundle of thought and emotions
that are recreated each moment, just as if we were in a transporter. This is a thought experiment that
is designed to question whether the ego theory makes sense. If I have a self, then a being exactly
like me would not be me. If I am nothing more than my thoughts, memories, and feelings, then both
of the Swarzeneggers would be the same person, or really, there would be no Schwarzenegger. In
the movie Unknown, Liam Neeson awakes after a car crash to discover that someone has taken
over his identity as a biologist. As the movie progresses, we (and Neeson) discover that the person
that Neeson thinks he is never actually existed. He was really an assassin who was trained to adopt
this identity for the job of killing someone. As a result of head injuries, he believes he is actually the
person whose identity he assumed. If he didn’t recover his memory, he would have lived out his life
thinking that he was someone who did not in reality exist. Would this be his “self?” Buddha thought
that accepting the Bundle or No Self Theory would have a positive effect emotionally, since we
would no longer worry about our future. Still most of us would think that not having a self would
diminish us as people. One effect of rejecting the Ego Theory, though, is that you would not be the
same person who paid for this course or took the Midterm Examination. So, I would not be able to
give you a grade in the course.  Less grading for me; but I wouldn’t be able to be paid for teaching
this course, since I would not be the person who taught it. However, if you committed a crime, you
could not be punished because you would not be the same person who committed the crime. (Don’t
rely on this as a defense.) It would seem that we really can’t get on in life and society without some
sense of self; but at the same, as Parfit shows, we seem unable to make sense of the concept of a
self, i.e., we can’t give a coherent explanation of the concept. The Bundle Theory makes more
sense; but everyone still believes they have a self, something that thinks these thoughts and has this
personality. That belief is so ingrained in us that it takes Buddhists years to rid themselves of it. This
is partly what Buddhist religious exercises are designed to do. Parfit and Buddhists would argue that
the Ego belief may be nothing more than a psychological quirk, something we believe with no real
basis. The question is: can we find something wrong with Parfit’s argument? If not, then the belief in
the “self” has no basis in reality, even if we are psychologically compelled to believe in it. Next week,
Dennett takes this argument a step further.
Week 13: Weekly Comments —Where Am I? Dennett
Dennett, a major contemporary philosopher, presents an amusing story that is designed to have us
question whether I am my brain or my body. This is a favorite science fiction theme that has played
out in several movies, where husbands and wives, or mothers and daughters (Freaky Friday)
exchange bodies (or do they exchange minds?). In this case, Dennett is separated from his brain,
but his brain still controls his body. Where is Dennett, brain or body? This seems rather easy to
answer. If my body were destroyed and replaced with a new similar (hopefully more youthful and
attractive body) but with the same consciousness, then I would say that this was still me. And, after a
period of adjustment, my wife would probably be grateful for the well toned body sleeping next to
her, although also jealous and wanting a body transplant, as well. But, would she be just as
accepting, if my body were replaced with a woman’s body? Also, what if there were a computer
simulation of my brain with a continuous feedback so that whatever the simulation knew my brain
knew and vice versa. I would be unable to tell if my brain or the computer was controlling my new
body. Would it still be me with a new body and a computer brain? What if another body was created
that used the simulation, while I used my brain? Would both of them be me? But, now suppose that
the computer and brain get cut off from one another. At that point, the computer/body Berger and the
brain/body Berger are having different experiences, and therefore grow and develop differently.
Would there now be two different Bergers? As I mentioned last week, in The Sixth Day, Arnold
Schwarzenegger is wrongly presumed dead and a clone of him, with his complete memory, is made
to replace him. At the end of The Sixth Day, there are two Schwarzeneggers that go their separate
ways; but the movie does not follow what happens to each of them. Are there now two
Schwarzeneggers? What happens when one of them dies? Is Schwarzenegger still alive, if there is
at least one of them still alive? This would seem to allow for the possibility of immortality, if we could
simply put my thoughts and emotions into a computer simulation. But, would that still be “me?” What
if the computer made slight improvements to my personality, making me slightly more intelligent, a
more sensitive man? Would it still be me? What if my computer simulation were put into a woman’s
body? Would I be a woman who thought she was a man? Would I change my perspective and
suddenly think I was a woman? Would I be a lesbian, if I still preferred women? Would I be a gay
man in a woman’s body, if I decided to love men? Or would I just be a heterosexual woman? Finally,
what if I develop Alzheimer’s disease? Is it still me, even of my personality and memory have
changed completely? The whole purpose of Dennett’s article, like Parfit’s, is to show that while we
may have a strong sense of our “self,” when we look closely at that concept, it all falls apart.
By the way, several people noted that the story is totally unrealistic. None of what occurs in the story
is possible or likely to become possible in the foreseeable future. It doesnt matter if Dennetts story
is technologically impossible. This is a what if thought experiment that is standard in philosophy,
called a desert island case, so called because these stories usually begin with What if we were on
a desert island and … It is a way of testing our concepts to see if they would work under all
circumstances, even if those circumstances are physically impossible.

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