(0:05) You make that sound like it's an easy question, like this is a starter question. But it’s
actually very hard.
So that's a good question, I think free will is...
Free will is…
Free will, I think is…
What free will is actually a pretty complicated question.
So, what is free will?
(0:31) Santiago Amaya:
Hello, this is Free Will Matters. My name is Santiago Amaya and I'm an associate professor
in Philosophy at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá. I am very happy to host this podcast.
The problem of free will has been at the center of many discussions in Western Philosophy
for the last 20 centuries. But in recent years the problem has reappeared in a fresh form.
There are new and exciting developments in the field that make this a fascinating topic of
conversation. For this podcast we have invited various philosophers who work in free will.
Philosophy might be a daunting thing, but with their help we will get to know better the
what, the how and the why of free will. Welcome.
For today's episode, we ask our guests two questions: Why does free will matter? How did
you get interested in the topic?
(1:27) Carolina Sartorio:
The assumption that we have free well seems to be basic to the conception of what makes
us human and sets us apart from other beings such as, for example, other animals like cats
and dogs and so on. Given this important connection with responsibility, without free will
we couldn't be morally responsible, so the assumption that we have it is part of what seems
to make us morally responsible.
Hi, I'm Carolina Sartorio. I'm professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona.
I became interested in the topic of free will kind of indirectly, through my work on the
metaphysics of causality, in particular, given the connection that seems to exist between
causal responsibility and moral responsibility, in the sense that causal responsibility is an
important element in moral responsibility. So, I became interested in free will and moral
responsibility because of the role that causation seems to play in this important concept.
(2:28) Eddy Nahmias:
Free will matters for a lot of different reasons and people seem to care about it for different
reasons. The most obvious one and the one that gets talked about the most in the
philosophical literature is its relationship to being a morally responsible agent, to being an
agent that can be blamed for bad things they do, praise for good things they do and, maybe
most importantly, punished if they do something wrong. So I think if we didn't have free
will, it would be less clear whether we could be the kind of agents who could be truly
blamed or praised. And if you think about it, if you were interacting with other agents and
you didn't think they were free, you might not have the same sort of feelings towards them.
Hi. My name is Eddy Nahmias. I'm professor and chair of the Philosophy Department at
Georgia State University in Atlanta, Georgia. I'm associated with the Neuroscience Institute
I'm not sure how I got interested in the topic of free will, to be honest. I was thinking about
this earlier and trying to, I have a pretty bad memory so I don't know if I might be
reconstructing things, but I suspect I was pretty interested in it before I ever knew about
Philosophy, just from science fiction or movies. And then, I took my first Philosophy class,
which was existentialism, and you have people like Sartre and others who are very
interested in the question of whether we have radical free will or whether we can sort of
create our own lives. And I think that probably got me interested a little bit, and then, at the
same time I was taking classes in Evolutionary Psychology and reading people like E.O.
Wilson and The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. So I was thinking a lot about what
ultimately I think are the most interesting challenges to free will, which are the scientific
threats, the ones suggesting that we are controlled by our genetic heritage or our
upbringing or our environment. I was thinking perhaps that conflict between the
existentialist radical freedom and the scientific vision that suggests there are significant
limits to our freedom, and I think it just took off from there. I went to grad school and just
kept studying it forever.
(4:40) Daniel Speak:
Yeah, why does free will matter? There are maybe multiple reasons why free will could
matter. For example, I think most people have a pre-philosophical picture of themselves as
having free will, so one reason why the question about free will matters is because we'd
like to have our pre-philosophical view of ourselves vindicated. We don't want it to turn
out that we are not the kind of beings that we thought we were before we started doing
Hello, my name is Daniel Speak. I'm a professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount
University in Los Angeles.
How did I get interested in the topic of free will? I'm a little embarrassed by my answer
here. I got interested in free will because when I got to grad school I was initially interested
in issues fundamentally in epistemology, the nature of knowledge. But I did a proseminar in
my first year of grad school in which we started talking about issues about freedom and
responsibility, and I was gripped immediately by the application of these philosophical
issues to other things that I cared about. The questions about freedom of the will sort of
touched on the human condition and on the moral life in ways that seem to me like I want
to do a form of Philosophy that made a difference in the overall human existence, and free
will looked to have a powerful grip on me there.
(6:00) Dana Nelkin:
I think free will matters for a number of reasons. Free will is necessary for our being
morally responsible agents and that's something that we care deeply about. I think it also
allows us to be responsible across a whole range of domains, that allows us to be
responsible for our creative endeavors, for our achievements and all sorts of things. I think
we also care about free will and it matters to us because it's such a deep part of our
conception of ourselves. So I think as rational deliberators we can't help but think of
ourselves as free, so when we’re deliberating about a decision, large or small, what job to
take or what to do for the afternoon, we seem to feel free where we think that somehow
our actions are up to us in a way that's special.
My name is Dana Nelkin. I'm a professor of Philosophy at the University of California, San
Diego. I work in Moral Psychology, Philosophy of Law and Ethics.
I can point to two kinds of ways in which I got interested in free will. One is a moment in
graduate school. I read a book by Galen Strawson called Freedom and Belief and he argues
there that as human beings we do tend to think of ourselves as free agents, but he doesn't
think it's built into our rational capacities in the way I was just describing. And I find myself
really disagreeing with this and also thinking it was really important, it’s a really important
question, and so I wrote my whole dissertation arguing that being rational deliberators as
we are brings with it the commitment to our own freedom. Then I went on to argue that if
that's true, then we really are free agents.
I think the interest really goes back to childhood, I think, and I remember thinking maybe
there's something I can do to prevent this from happening. I just began to think about the
things that I can control and the things I can't control and that's just one of many moments
at which these questions just seem very pressing.
(8:00) Randolph Clark:
So, free will can matter in this respect. We might consider what it would be like to lack it
with respect to a certain domain of one’s conduct. For instance, if one has certain sorts of
impairments due to addiction or due to compulsion, that would be an undesirable
condition. That would be a condition which one lacks a certain kind of freedom with
respect to one's own agency. As that's an undesirable condition, it can matter to us that
we're not in that condition; it can thus matter to us that we, with respect to a broad domain
of our conduct, that we enjoy freedom with respect to it.
Hello, my name is Randolph Clark. I teach Philosophy at Florida State University in the
United States. I work to a large extent on agency and free will and moral responsibility, and
I'm going to talk about free will.
So, the story about how I first came to an interest in free will. My first semester of Graduate
School, I took a seminar that was taught by Tim Scanlon and we read a lot of work on
theory of action, on free will, and on moral responsibility. It hooked me! Somehow the
problem seemed to grab me, somehow, I seemed to have a persisting interest in it. Now
why that happen? I don’t know. I'm just telling you the story of when it started and what
caused it, but I don't really understand why this particular problem of Philosophy interests
me so much. But it does.
(9:48) Derk Pereboom
Well, we can take these two senses of free will in order. Think of free will in the sense of
being able to act and to refrain. It matters because we care about having open futures and
we care about the future being not set prior to the control in action that we actually have.
And maybe that matters because, according to Robert Kane, it gives us a certain kind of
creativity that we wouldn't have otherwise. The control in action that's required for basic
desert and moral responsibility matters because in a lot of our practices and in our
institutions and society, we presuppose that people have that sort of moral responsibility.
If it turns out that we don't have it, then certain of our practices and certain of our
institutions won't be justified.
Hello, I'm Derk Pereboom, I'm a professor of Philosophy at Cornell University in New York
state, and I'm also senior associate Dean of Arts and Humanities at Cornell University. I've
published on free will and moral responsibility a couple of books: Living without free will
and Free will agency and meaning in life.
I got interested in the topic of free will from two different sources: One is theological. I
grew up religious and my father is a minister in the Calvinist Church. There free will is
important because the idea there is that, at least in the process of Salvation, we don't
exercise free will and it's not really relevant to that, and especially if you believe that some
people are eternally damned, and if our control is irrelevant to that, that somehow seems
unjust. So, free will becomes an important issue in that expression of Christianity.
I'm also interested in free will as a result of reflection on the scientific worldview. It does
seem as if free will is least challenged by scientific worldview. I became interested in free
will through that source as well.
(11:35) Kevin Timpe:
Free will matters, I think, for a number of different reasons. It matters on my view for
moral responsibility. It matters for how we understand ourselves and our role in the world.
I think it matters for how we think about ethics and virtue formation. Some people think
that it matters for how we think about things like autonomy and purpose in life, and then it
matters for those people who have religious beliefs because free will beliefs relate to a lot
of different religious doctrines.
Hello, my name is Kevin Timpe. I currently hold the William H. Jellema Chair at Calvin
College and it's a pleasure to be here today.
I first got interested in the topic of free will in my first ever Philosophy class that I took as
an undergraduate. Free will was one of the issues that we discussed in that course that I
took because I had to as part of my college education and it's sort of gripped me ever since.
Then I decided to write on it for my dissertation when I was in graduate school.
(12:25) Santiago Amaya:
Free Will Matters is part of the LATAM Free Will, Agency, and Responsibility Project. It is
produced by Cerosetenta thanks to a generous grant of the John Templeton Foundation and
with the support of Universidad de los Andes and the University of California in San Diego.
For more information, visit us at freewill.uniandes.edu.co