Brandeis University, Philosophy Department
Fall 2009
Brandeis University Web Stite

Philosophy 1A


Professor Andreas Teuber
Prof. Teuber

Making Up One's Mind (2)

Retrace your steps to "Paper Topic Number One." There you may recall John was invited by the Captain to accept his offer to shoot one of the villagers to save nineteen. Imagine you are in John's shoes. The Captain does not hold a gun to your head. You are free to go, if you choose not to accept his offer, although he does say, if you refuse, he will order Pedro to shoot them all, all twenty of the villagers. Several in the class thought that if they were to accept the Captain's offer they would be responsible at least for killing the one.

But now imagine the following. Imagine that after making the offer and after you have hesitated for a bit, the Captain grows impatient and orders Pedro to handcuff you and take you to a small plane to one side of the clearing and put you on board. Imagine that Pedro then flies the plane over the clearing at about 500 feet and pushes you out of the plane and you land on one of the villagers, killing the villager instantly and the Captain lets the other nineteen go free.

Imagine, too, you miraculously survive the fall, only suffering a few bruises,

Say, too, that shortly after this, as you are brushing yourself off, police enter the clearing, arrest you and charge you with murder. They hold you responsible for the killing. They say you are to blame for the killing of the villager.

But are you?

What do you think?

Free Will

Don't you have a perfectly good defense in this case? You're not to blame for the killing of the villager. You could not have done otherwise. You had no choice in the matter. You couldn't help what you did. You had not finished deliberating and had yet to make up your mind what you would do before Pedro kidnapped you. It's not fair, not right to charge you with murder, to blame you for killing the one villager.

You did not act of your own free will.

We all believe we have free will. If we did not, why plan for the future? Why make an effort to improve your life if you cannot effect or change what happens to you?


[PHIL 1A] [Syllabus] [Handouts] [Home] [Bio] [CV] [PHIL DEPT.] [E-MAIL]

Send comments to: Andreas Teuber
Last Modified: 10/10/09
Instructor's Toolkit
Copyright © The President and Fellows of Harvard College