Brandeis University, Philosophy Department
Fall 2009
Brandeis University Web Stite

Philosophy 1A


Professor Andreas Teuber
Prof. Teuber

Making Up One's Mind (1)

O.. k., you are reading "Paper Topic Number Two." And you have read this far. But now think, think for a moment. Should you continue to read or should you, perhaps, stop reading? You have a choice. You can read the next sentence or stop.

To read or not to read.

Make up your mind. Which will it be?

What is your decision?

If you're reading this, this next sentence of the paper topic, you must have decided to read on. You made up your mind and decided to read on, no? Or did you just have to keep reading, no two ways about it?

But, surely, you could have stopped reading if you chose. You could have let your mind wander, no? You could have thought of other things or decided you were hungry and wanted a snack instead. A snack would be good about now, no?

Of course, you could have, but you decided not to, You have free will. We all have free will. No?

But wait a minute. Perhaps you are thinking too quickly. Perhaps you are not really giving this matter sufficient attention. You are made up of matter, of chemicals, atoms, and cells. You are made up of physical particles and these particles move one way or another because certain forces act upon them. Given that you are made up of particles with these forces acting upon them, you had to keep reading. There was no "alternative" or "otherwise" about it. You could not have acted otherwise. You had no alternative. You had no choice. Your decision was not free.

Free Will

This, in a nutshell, is the problem of free will. It's not an easy problem to solve. Put the way it was just put is one way a contemporary philosopher is inclined to introduce the problem. Its most simple formulation might be put this way.

"Science teaches us that there are laws of nature and that part of the point of science is to discover these laws which capture the underlying causes of things. It is not too much of a stretch of the imagination to think that science will continue to evolve and discover the underlying causes of all human actions. But if all our actions can be predicted and controlled by scientific understanding of the world once it fully develops, how is free will possible? There seems to be no place for it in the scientific scheme of things. And yet we act and believe as if we have free will."


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