In 1997-98, Michael Frede was the Sather Professor of Philosophy of Classical Literature at the University of California, Berkeley. It is a requirement of the professorship that its holder give lectures later to be published by the University of California Press. Frede's death in 2007 prevented him from putting the lectures in their final form, but they now have been edited and published as A Free Will. Origins of the Notion in Ancient Thought.

The primary prerequisite for this seminar is PHI 328 (History of Ancient Philosophy) or the equivalent.

Course Details

The final grade for the course is a function of participation in the seminar (50%), a bibliography project (25%), and a final paper (25%). Participation in the seminar consists in presentations posted to the class for each of the seven units in the class. The presentation is an analysis of one of the readings for the unit. The bibliography project is a summary of the arguments in five journal articles or book chapters connected to the reading in the seminar. You will need to use a library or other resource to find these articles or book chapters. In the paper, you must state and argue for thesis in connection with a problem or argument from the reading. Participation in the seminar and the bibliography project are preparation for the paper.

The final point grade for the course is a function of your grades on the assignments. Each of the 7 presentations is worth 7 points. There is 1 free point, so the presentations total to 50 points. The bibliography project is worth 25 points. The paper is worth 25 points. There is no extra credit. The point total determines the final letter grade: A+ (100-97), A (96-94), A- (93-90), B+ (89-87), B (86-84), B- (83-80), C+ (79-77), C (76-70), D (69-60), E (59-0).

Incompletes are given only to accommodate serious illnesses and family emergencies, which must be adequately documented.


The standard collections of Plato, Aristotle, and the Hellenistic philosophers are Plato. Complete Works, edited by John M. Cooper and D. S. Hutchinson (Hackett Publishing Company, 1997), Complete Works of Aristotle, edited by Jonathan Barnes (Princeton University Press, 1984), and The Hellenistic Philosophers, A.A. Long, D.N. Sedley (Cambrdige University Press, 1987). However, it should not be thought automatically that these translations are the best translations available. Translation is not easy, especially for philosophical texts. Translators almost inevitably write some of their interpretation of the philosophy into the text of the translation. For this reason, it is often helpful to look at more than one translation and also to look at some of the older translations.

For Plato and some Aristotle, I recommend the (freely available) translations in the Perseus Digital Library. These translations have some problems, but they are more than good enough for translations of Plato. The Perseus Digital Library is limited with respect to Aristotle. It does not contain translations of all of Aristotle's major works, but ASU allows access to the Complete Works of Aristotle. The Hellenistic philosophers are more of a problem. Most of what they wrote did not survive, and our knowledge of their thought depends on quotations and discussion in later writers.

Course Itinerary

(Additional detail and readings will be provided as the course progresses.)


1. Introduction
• "Foreword," "Editor's Preface," and Chapter 1 of A Free Will

• "Let us assume that it is a fact that, at least sometimes when we do something, we are responsible for what we are doing, as nothing or nobody forces us to act in this way; rather, we ourselves desire or even choice or decide to act in this way. Let us also assume, as is reasonable enough, that this is what the Greeks believed all along. It certainly is something Aristotle took to be a fact. The notion of a free will was originally introduced within the context of a particular theory, namely, a late Stoic theory, in a way specific to this theory, to account for this presumed fact" (Frede 2011: 3).

• In this course, we will consider what the ancient philosophers thought about action in an effort to understand and to evaluate Frede's thesis. [...]
If Frede is correct, then the "will" is not something that Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, or the early Stoics discuss in their theories of action.

"In order to get any notion of a will at all, one must assume the following. Unless one is forced or made to do something in such a manner that what one is doing is in no way one's own action (as when one is pushing something over because one is pushed oneself), one does what one does because something happens in one's mind which makes one do what one does. Moreover, one has to assume that what happens in one's mind which makes one do what one does is that one chooses or decides to act in this way. Or at least one has to assume that there is something going on in the mind which can be construed as a choice or decision" (Frede 2011: 7).

2. Socratic intellectualism in the Protagoras, Gorgias, and Meno
"Introduction", Michael Frede. In Plato, Protagoras. Translated, with Notes, by Stanley Lombardo & Karen Bell. Hackett, 1992.
The Greek noun ψυχή is traditionally translated as "soul" in the ancient philosophers, but this can be misleading given the contemporary meaning of the English word. (Although ψυχή translates as "soul," it transliterates as psyche and is the etymological root of the word psychology.) The ancient Greeks thought that a living human being has a ψυχή and that this ψυχή leaves the body when the person dies, but there was less agreement on the role the ψυχή plays in a living human being. It was clear to the ancients that human beings can think about things and form beliefs. It was also clear to them that human beings can form desires and that desires motivate human beings to act in various ways, but the ancient Greeks did not initially conceive of beliefs and desires as part of the ψυχή or "soul." Socrates seems to have taken the seminal step in thinking about human beings in this way. He seems to have thought that human beings are psychological beings and that what human beings do (as opposed to what they are made to do) is explainable in terms of their psychology and that beliefs and desires are integral parts of this psychology.

"Socratic intellectualism" is the name historians of ancient philosophy use to designate the understanding of the soul that Socrates seems to have held. This understanding of the soul has consequences that can seem unintuitive. It is ordinarily thought that a human being might believe that something is good or bad but nevertheless find himself overpowered by a desire to act contrary to this belief. A smoker, for example, might firmly believe that not smoking is good but nevertheless find himself overpowered by a desire to smoke. According to Socrates, however, at least as Plato seems to portrays him in the Protagoras, this is impossible. Socrates did not think the human soul worked this way. He thought that all desires either are or stem from beliefs about what is good and what is bad. He thought that the only way to have a desire for something is to have the belief that the thing in question is good. Socrates, in this way, thought that the human psychology is "intellectualist." He thought that a human being controls his desires and thereby controls his actions (and thus the direction his life takes) by controlling his beliefs.

This a standard interpretation of Socrates, but there is the question of how well the dialogues support it. In addition, for the issue of "will" as Frede understands it, there is the question of whether in Socratic intellectualism "one has to assume that there is something going on in the mind which can be construed as a choice or decision" (Frede 2011: 7).

• Analyze one of the passages. Be sure to place the passage within the argument of the dialogue as a whole.
• Explain what the passage shows about Socratic Intellectualism and about whether Socrates thought that the "will" plays a role in action.

1. Protagoras 351b-358e.
The question is whether the pleasure is the good. To decide, Socrates asks Protagoras whether knowledge is a leader and a ruler, or, instead, can be dragged around as a slave. They agree that knowledge is a ruler. On this basis, Socrates and Protagoras analyze the experience people describe as being overcome by pleasure.

2. Gorgias 466a-468e.
The question is whether orators have great power, as Polus thinks. Socrates argues that orators do what they see fit but not what they want.

3. Meno 77b-78b.
Meno suggests that to have virtue is to rejoice in fine things and have power. To see whether Meno is correct, Socrates asks whether everyone desires good things.

3. The Tripartite Theory of the Soul in the Republic
"Desire", Tamar Schapiro
"On the relation between wanting and willing", Tamar Schapiro
"What are theories of desire theories of?", Tamar Schapiro
"The nature of inclination," Tamar Schapiro
The Tripartite Theory of the Soul is a theory about how the human soul functions. Historians of ancient philosophy traditionally take Plato to have Socrates introduce in the Republic. According to the Tripartite Theory, each of the three parts of the soul ("appetite" (ἐπιθυμητικόν), "spirit" (θυμοειδές), and "reason" (λογιστικὸν)) has the ability to give rise to a desire. The desire in reason is a function of beliefs about what is good and what is bad, but the desires in the appetite and spirit are not. The desire in the appetite arises in response to events in the body. It is a little less clear how desire arises in the spirit, but the idea seems to be that human beings are social animals and have desires to go along with group behavior. The idea is not that they form a belief that it would be good to conform and then form a desire to conform on the basis of the belief. Rather, the desires arise automatically in response to the observed behavior of the group.

Socrates argues for the Tripartite Theory of the Soul on the basis of what he takes to be everyday facts about motivation. It is clear, for example, that sometimes thirsty people do not want to drink. About this example, Socrates says that there is a desire to drink and an opposite desire not to drink. He argues that these desires cannot belong to the same thing. He says that these desires are opposite motions and that nothing can be moving toward and away from the same thing at the same time. So he concludes that it must be that these desires are in different parts of the soul. The desire to drink is in the appetite. The opposite desire not to drink is in reason. Socrates gives a similar argument to establish the third part of the soul.

• Analyze the argument for the Tripartite Theory of the Soul in Republic IV.436a-441c. Be sure to place the passage within the argument of the dialogue as a whole.
• Explain what the passage shows about whether Plato thought that the "will" plays a role in action.
• Analyze one of the arguments in one of Schapiro's papers.

4. Aristotle on the soul in the Posterior Analytics, On the Soul, Metaphysics, and Nicomachean Ethics.
"Aristotle's Rationalism", Michael Frede. In Rationality in Greek Thought, edited by Michael Frede and Gisela Striker. Oxford University Press, 1996.
"On Aristotle's Conception of the Soul", Michael Frede. In Essays on Aristotle's De Anima.
"Aristotle on thinking", Michael Frede. Rhizai 2008.
Plato and Aristotle
Aristotle is Plato's first great critic, but he is also the first great Platonist. Aristotle follows Plato against the intellectual conception of desire that Socrates seems to have held. (Aristotle, like Plato, accepts the Socratic conception of human beings as psychological beings. The question, at this point, is about the ontology of the soul and about how the soul works.) Aristotle thinks that not all desires are or stem from beliefs about what is good or bad. "Wish" (βούλησις) is the form of desire that belongs to reason. "Appetite" and "spirit" belong to the nonrational part of the soul. It is the Platonic ontology of the soul and its relation to the body that Aristotle rejects. Aristotle does not think that the soul exists separately from the body. Furthermore, he does not think that reason is inborn. Aristotle thinks that reason develops over time in human beings. This is his theory of induction. It is important to see that although Aristotle denies that reason is inborn, he is in agreement with Plato that some knowledge is intrinsic to reason. Reason is not just a matter of making inferences. In this way, Plato and Aristotle are both rationalists.

Aristotle has a detailed (and not easy to understand) theory of how the soul works. He is interested in how the soul works because he thinks that human beings are psychological beings and because he wants to understand what it is for a human being to make his life good. (He inherits this interest from Socrates and Plato.) Aristotle thinks that "happiness" (εὐδαιμονία) is related to "virtue" (ἀρετή), and he thinks that to understand virtue, it is necessary to understand "the voluntary and the involuntary" (τὸ ἑκούσιον καὶ τὸ ἀκούσιον) and "choice" (προαίρεσις). According to Aristotle, choices are "voluntary." It is important to note that the Greek here does not quite match the English. The Latin noun voluntas is from the verb volo, which means roughly "I wish." This is why βούλησις is translated into English as "wish" in Aristotle's discussions of the desire that belongs to reason. Aristotle, however, does not think that everything a human being does of his own accord is motivated by wish. He thought that a human beings can, of his own accord, do something because he is motivated by the nonrational desires "appetite" and "spirit."

• Analyze one of the passages.
The goal is to understand how Aristotle thought that the soul works.
The passage most important for understanding Frede's thesis in A Free Will are the second and the third.

1. Posterior Analytics II.19 and Metaphysics I.1
Aristotle sets out theory of induction to explain that reason develops in a natural process.

2. On the Soul III.3 and III.9-10
Aristotle discusses two characteristics of the soul: discrimination (thought and sense) and movement.

3. Nicomachean Ethics III.1-4
Aristotle discusses "the voluntary and the involuntary" (τὸ ἑκούσιον καὶ τὸ ἀκούσιον), "deliberation" (βούλευσις) and what is "up to us" (ἐφ᾽ ἡμῖν), and "choice" (προαίρεσις).

5. Aristotle on choice without a will
• Chapter 2 of A Free Will
"The ΕΦ' ΗΜΙΝ in Ancient Philosophy", Michael Frede. ΦΙΛΟΣΟΦΙΑ, 2007.
"Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics 1113b7-8 and free choice", Susanne Bobzien.
"The concept of will from Plato to Maximus the Confessor", Richard Sorabji. In The Will and Human Action, 2004.
De Anima
Frede argues that the Stoics thought of the "will" (προαίρεσις) as a certain disposition of reason. To show that explicit discussion and understanding of this disposition first appears in the work of Epictetus. Frede presents his interpretation historically. According to Plato and Aristotle, as Frede understands them, there are desires in the rational and the non-rational parts of the soul that can move a human being. A desire in the rational part is a βούλησις. Frede says that such a desire is a "willing," but he stresses that it is misleading to represent Aristotle’s distinction (in Nicomachean Ethics III.1) between what human beings do ἑκόντες and ἄκοντες as a distinction between "willing" and "unwilling" action. When a human being acts on a non-rational desire, he acts on his own accord and hence ἑκόντες. His desire, however, is not a βούλησις. As Frede explains, "there is no notion of willing in Aristotle such that somebody could be said to act voluntarily or willingly whether he acts on a rational or a non-rational desire" (Frede 2011: 26). Frede does not say so explicitly, but it is clear that he takes this point about desire and action to be true of Plato too.

These facts alone do not justify the conclusion that Plato and Aristotle did not talk about the "will" in their explanation of action. It is necessary to know what the "will" is, and Frede seems to rely on the assumption that for a disposition of reason to be the "will," every action must be explained in terms of it. He says that a condition necessary to have "any notion of a will at all" is that everything one does of his own accord is the product of "something going on in the mind which can be construed as a choice or decision"(Frede 2011: 7). Hence from the fact that for Aristotle not everything a human being does of his own accord is the product of a "choice," Frede concludes that "Aristotle does not have a notion of a will" (Frede 2011: 31). Frede seems to rely on this same assumption for his conclusion that the "will" does not appear in the thought of the early Stoics (Frede 2011: 43). Frede concludes, in fact, that explicit discussion of "a notion of a will" first appears in the late Stoics in the work of Epictetus. He says that Epictetus thought that the "will" (προαίρεσις) consists in the "use of impressions" (χρῆσις τῶν φαντασιῶν). This "use" is something in the mind that can be construed a decision or choice that explains everything a human does. Epictetus, according to Frede, thought that assenting is just one of the many things human beings can do with their impressions. Epictetus thought, to use Frede’s words, that human beings "can scrutinize them, reflect on them, try to deflate and dissolve them, dwell on them, and, of course, give assent to them," and hence that the "will" is a "disposition [of reason] to deal with impressions in a certain way, most crucially to choose how to assent to impulsive impressions" (Frede 2011: 46).
• Establish or refute an interpretation that Frede sets out.

6. Stoicism
The Hellenistic Philosophy of Mind, 61-120. University of California Press, 1992.
"The Stoic Conception of Reason", Michael Frede. In Hellenistic Philosophy, Volume II. Edited by. K. Boudouris.
"The Stoic Doctrine of the Affections of the Soul", Michael Frede. In The Norms of Nature, edited by Malcolm Schofield and Gisela Striker.
"On the Stoic Conception of the Good", Michael Frede. In Topics in Stoic Philosophy
"The Good is Benefit: On the Stoic definition of the Good", Katja Vogt. Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy, 2008.
stoic poikile
The Stoics, like the Hellenistic philosophers generally, tried to correct what they saw as mistakes in the prior classical tradition of Plato and Aristotle. Plato and Aristotle thought that the soul has both a rational and a non-rational part and that Socrates had wrongly overlooked the non-rational part. The Stoics thought that Socrates was right. They thought that although a human being begins life with a non-rational soul, this soul ceases to exist when a human being acquires reason (by age fourteen) and becomes rational. Thus, according to the Stoics, Plato and Aristotle failed to realize that the non-rational soul is transformed and replaced by a rational soul. In adult human beings, the Stoics thought that all motivation is completely a matter of reason.

The Stoics developed their theory of "impressions" (φαντασίαι), and ultimately their theory of "will" (προαίρεσις), as a clarification and development of the Socratic idea that motivation has its basis in reason. They thought that all motivation in human beings occurs in terms of "impulsive impressions" (φαντασίαι ὁρμητικαί) and that it is necessary to distinguish the conditions under which impulsive impressions generate purposeful behavior in children and animals, on the one hand, and in adult human beings, on the other. When the child becomes an adult, although motivation still occurs in terms of impulsive impressions, now "assent" (συγκατάθεσις) is necessary for impulsive impressions to generate behavior. Assent is a function of reason. Because the souls of animals and children lack reason, they cannot assent. The presence of an impulsive impression in them automatically generates behavior, but adults act in terms of reason.

It is possible get some idea of how impulsive impressions generate purposeful behavior in animals and children by considering a cognitive model that uses maintenance and achievement goals to explain behavior. A maintenance goal encodes a relationship with the world that an agent is designed or has evolved to maintain through its behavior. If the relationship the fails, the maintenance goal issues in an achievement goal. The achievement goal motivates behavior to reinstate the relationship with the world. Consider hunger, for example. When animals are hungry, they move to find food and eat it. In terms of the model, the conditional "if I am hungry, I find food and eat it" is instantiated in the animal so that it functions as a maintenance goal. When the animal registers the truth of the antecedent, the content of the consequent is activated as an achievement goal. This achievement goal moves the animal to find food and eat it.

This cognitive model provides a way to identify what the impulsive impression is and what gives this impression its impulsive character. The impulsive impression is what triggers the maintenance goal. The maintenance goal is what gives the impulsive impression its impulsive character, or what Frede what calls its “coloring” (Frede 2011: 36). In the context of Stoic psychology, the maintenance goal supervenes on the way nature designs animals and children. The Stoics thought that nature in its providence constructs animals and children so that when they have certain impressions they naturally engage in forms of behavior that are conducive to survival. The impressions impel animals and children to behave in these ways.

In adults, according to the Stoics, the impulsiveness of impulsive impressions works differently than it does in children. Unlike animals and children, adults act for reasons. In them, the impulsiveness of an impression consists in judgments of reason about what is good and what is bad. It is only against the background of these judgments about what is good and what is bad that assent to an impulsive impression constitutes an "impulse" (ὀργή). The Stoics, in this way, follow in the tradition of Socratic intellectualism about motivation.

The sage is not confused about what is good and about what is bad. He does not think that good applies to the world in so far as he is healthy, eats when he is hungry, and generally has the things that people ordinarily think are good. He does not have false beliefs about what is good and what is bad. According to the Stoics, the sage understands that the good applies to the world because it is ordered perfectly rationally. He understands that human beings have a part to play in sustaining this order and that human beings play this part by acting rationally. The sage is not omniscient. He does not know what will happen in any given situation, but he knows that the natural order is in general one in which human beings eat things they like, maintain their health, and do the other things that ordinary people typically regard as good. His attitude toward eating when hungry, regaining his health if he has fallen ill, and so on, is not that doing so is good. Instead, he tries to do these things because his understanding of the natural order has the consequence that doing these things is "preferred" (προηγμένα). In general, they are the right things to do.


• Establish or refute an interpretation that Frede sets out in one of the papers.

7. The emergence of a notion of will in Stoicism
• Chapter 3 and 4 of A Free Will.
Posidonius Fragment 169 and commentary
"Representation and the self in Stoicism", A. A. Long. In Companions to Ancient Thought, Volume 2: Psychology, 1991.
"Posidonius on Emotions", John Cooper. In The Emotions in Hellenistic Philosophy, 1998.
"Posidonius on the Nature and Treatment of the Emotions", Hendrik Lorenz. Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, 2011.
"[Epictetus] prefers to talk more generally of our "use of impressions" (χρῆσις τῶν φαντασιῶν) or of the way we deal with our impressions. Assenting to them is just one thing we can do with them, though the most important one. So now it becomes clear, and Epictetus makes this explicit, that what is up to us, what is a matter of our choice, is how we deal with our impressions. We can scrutinize them, reflect on them, try to deflate and dissolve them, dwell on them, and, of course, give assent to them. ... And our προαίρεσις ... [is] a disposition to choose to deal with our impressions in a certain way, most crucially to choose how to assent to impulsive impressions. This assent, which you choose to give, will consistute a willing, and this willing is the impulse which makes you act in a certain way. So this ability and disposition, insofar as it accounts for your willing whatever it is that you will do, can be called 'the will.' But the will is called προαίρεσις, rather than βούλησις, to mark that it is an ability to make choices, of which which willings are just products. This indeed is the first time that we have any notion of a will" (Frede 2011: 46).

"Posidonius seems to have asked whether the coloring of the [impulsive] impression must be due to a belief of reason or whether, instead, it could have its origin in a nonrational part of the soul or even in the body and its constitution and state. It could be a natural, nonrational reaction of an organism which sees its life threatened. Similarly, it might be more plausible to refer the coloring of the impulsive impression, not to the mistaken belief that this piece of cake is something good but rather to the body of an organism which is depleted and craving some carbohydrates. It does not matter for our purposes whether Posidonius believed in a nonrational part of the soul. What matters is his suggestion that the impulsive character of at least some of our impressions does not originate in reason’s beliefs… but seems to have its origin in us, for instance, in the particular constitution or state of our body which makes us crave certain things” (Frede 2011: 54-55).

"[The Stoics] say that passion (πάθος) is impulse which is excessive and disobedient to the dictates of reason, or a movement of the soul that is irrational and contrary to nature" (LS 65 A).


• Establish or refute an interpretation that Frede sets out.

8. The emergence of a notion of free will in Stoicism
• Chapters 5 and 6 of A Free Will.
Paradoxa Stoicorum
"So, when we are created free, this must mean that we are created in such a a way that we would naturally develop into free agents, as we develop reason. So in this sense all human beings are created free. But it also turns out, at least in standard Stoic doctrine, that, as we develop reason under the influence of society, we immediately espouse false beliefs about the value of things and thus enslave ourselves. So we never actually are free before enslaving ourselves" (Frede 2011: 75).

"So here we have our first actual notion of a free will. It is a notion of a will such that there is no power or force in the world which could prevent it from making the choices one needs to make to live a good life or force it to make choices which would prevent us from living a good life" (Frede 2011: 77).

"God must set things up in such a way that neither human nature nor our individual nature nor the circumstances into which we are born, either separately or jointly, prevent us from become wise and free. Indeed, the Stoics not only assume this, they also assume that God sets things up in such a way that we all, in the course of our natural development, could acquire the understanding and the insight to make the right choices. God constructs human beings in such a way that they could naturally acquire true beliefs. ... Hence our having the true beliefs we have does not require an explanation.... What does require explanation is our having false beliefs. They must be due to the fact that something went wrong, interfering with the natural process which would have led to our having just true beliefs. And the Stoics identify what wrong with out giving assent to a false impression, when we should give assent only to those true impressions which are recognizably true. ... What needs an explanation is why we do not get there, because something went wrong. And the answer again is that we ourselves abort this natural development by being rash, careless, or impatient in the way we give assent. Here, then, we have, for the first time in history, a notion of free will...." (Frede 2011:84-85).


• Establish or refute an interpretation that Frede sets out.

9. Conclusion

Contact Information:

Thomas A. Blackson
Philosophy Faculty
School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies
Lattie F. Coor Hall, room 3356
PO Box 874302
Arizona State University
Tempe, AZ. 85287-4302,, www.public.asu/~blackson