Personhood and Freedom of the Will

Department of Philosophy, School of Philosophy, Theology and Religion

College of Arts and Law


Code 23249

Level of study Third/Final year

Credit value 20

Semester NOT RUNNING IN 2012-13

Other pre-requisites 60 credits of philosophy modules

Module description

This module explores some of the issues in contemporary metaphysics surrounding personal identity and freedom of the will.

In personal identity, the key question is: what makes someone the same person over time? Is the Captain Kirk-like person who steps out of the transporter beam the same person as Captain Kirk, who stepped into it a moment ago, even though his body has been destroyed and a new one created? Is someone with advanced Alzheimer’s really the same person as ‘they’ were twenty years ago, even though they can’t remember anything that happened then and don’t even recognise ‘their’ friends and family? And so on.

In free will, the key questions are: what is it, and do we have it? Does acting freely require that what we do isn’t fully determined by our past and our environment, or merely that we are not coerced or compelled by forces outside our control? If it requires less than full determination, doesn’t that mean that what we do is a matter of luck, since nothing determines that we do one thing rather than another? And is there any evidence that we actually have that kind of ‘freedom’ anyway? Is freedom of the will just a convenient illusion?

Teaching and learning methods

Weekly two-hour class (lecture + small-group discussion), plus fortnightly seminars