Philosophy Basics: The Many Faces of Freedom

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Philosophy Basics: The Many Faces of Freedom

<p>In the 18th century, two French mathematicians – Pierre-Louis Maupertuis and Joseph-Louis Lagrange – developed the <em>Principle of Least Action</em>. Drawing on ideas from Aristotle, Leibniz and

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In the 18th century, two French mathematicians – Pierre-Louis Maupertuis and Joseph-Louis Lagrange – developed the Principle of Least Action. Drawing on ideas from Aristotle, Leibniz and Isaac Newton, this principle describes how every physical event, under its prevailing circumstances, is necessarily such that it ‘involves the minimum immediate expenditure of external energy’.


If true, then this presents philosophers with a major challenge. With every atom in our bodies constrained by Maupertuis’s principle, how can we be ‘free’ to choose how we act? With our every thought and action the direct consequence of our previous thoughts and actions, how can we ever be free to choose to act ‘otherwise’? If causal determinism prevails, then how do we uphold moral and legal responsibility? Is the heroin addict responsible for her actions when she steals your wallet, even if she really cannot help but do it? And how do we respond to the schoolchild who claims that he is genetically indisposed to do his homework?


Philosophers have struggled with such questions for over two millennia; and have devised many different ways to think about the meaning of “freedom”. This short course is a survey of their various interpretations.


COURSE OUTLINE
This short, introductory course explores the physical and metaphysical notions of ‘freedom’ – the conceptual and logical framework in terms of which we strive to make sense of our sense of freedom and Free Will; including:

  • how our sense of freedom is informed by physics, metaphysics and neuroscience;
  • how our sense of freedom informs the way we understand ethics, moral responsibility, the Law, and social and political power.


PLANNED LEARNING OUTCOMES
By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Become acquainted with the definition of ‘freedom’ in the physical domain, and the various definitions of metaphysical “freedom”.
  2. Become acquainted with positive and negative definitions of “freedom”.
  3. Understand the distinction between internal and external freedom; and between ‘freedom from’, ‘freedom to’ and ‘freedom of’.
  4. Appreciate the tension between “Freedom” and “Will”.
  5. Gain insights into the relationship between freedom and interference; passion and reason; fear and courage; allure, threat and coercion.
  6. Gain insights into the relationship between freedom, moral responsibility, the Law, and social and political power.
  7. Appreciate how neuroscience poses a challenge to the way we understand personal freedom.