Free Will in Ancient Thought

PHI 420. Writing Assignments.

There are five assignments. Each is worth 10 points. The remaining 50 points in the final grade consist in your discussions (35 points) and your bibliography project (15 points).

You are free to discuss the assignments and post questions about the answers.

Your answers to the assignments must be detailed, clear, and thoughtful. Brief, hard to understand, dashed off answers will not receive full credit.


"I will try to show, that this notion [free will] in its origins is a technical, philosophical notion which already presupposes quite definite and far from trivial assumptions about ourselves and the world" (A Free Will, 12).

"[I] rely on something like a general idea of a free will, something like a schema which any specific notion of a free will or any particular version of the notion of a free will, at least in antiquity, will fit into" (A Free Will, 15).

"[The Greek] term [ἐλευθερία] provides us with some guidance as to how the notion of freedom we are interested in is to be understood. As the very term indicates, it must be a notion formed by analogy to the political notion of freedom" (A Free Will, 16).

Assignment #1

• Explain why Frede thinks human beings did not have the notion of free will all along. Be sure to explain why he thinks historians of ancient philosophy thought otherwise.

• Explain what Frede thinks "will" is in his "schema" of "free will."

• Explain what Frede thinks "free" is in his schema of "free will."




"Plato's and Aristotle's doctrine of a tripartite soul and different forms of motivation, with their possible conflict and the resolution of such conflict, constitutes an attempt to correct Socrates' position, in order to do justice to the presumed fact that people sometimes, in cases of conflict, do act, against their better knowledge, on their nonrational desire" (A Free Will, 22).

"Hence choosing is just a special form of willing. So in Aristotle's account choice does play an important role. But choices are not explained in terms of a will but in terms of the attachment of reason to the good, however it might be conceived of, and the exercise of reason's cognitive abilities to determine how in this situation the good might best be attained (A Free Will, 25).

"Just as there is no notion of a will in Aristotle, there is also no notion of freedom" (A Free Will, 25).

Assignment #2

• Explain what Socratic intellectualism is. Given Frede's understanding of a will, explain why Socratic intellectualism is not sufficient for the existence of a will.

• Explain why, according to Frede, Aristotle does not have a notion of a will.

• Explain why, according to Frede, Aristotle does not think that all human beings are free to make the choices they need to make to live a good life.



Assignment #3

"Such impressions are called “impulsive” (hormêtikai)..." (A Free Will, 30).

"So now we have the notion of assent, and hence the appropriate notion of a willing, but we do not yet have the notion of a choice, let alone of a will" (A Free Will, 33).

"This indeed is the first time that we have any notion of a will" (A Free Will, 35).

• Explain how, according to Frede, the Stoics understand "impulsive impressions" (φαντασίαι ὁρμητικαί). Be sure to explain what they think makes these impressions impulsive.

• Explain why Frede thinks that the early Stoics (= classical Stoicism, the Stoicism of Chrysippus (279-206 BCE)) do not have a notion of a will.

• Explain why Frede thinks that in Epictetus (50-135 CE) there is a notion of a will.


Assignment #4

"[The Platonists and Peripatetics agreed] with the Stoics (though this in fact meant a significant departure from Plato and Aristotle) that any impression, however tempting it may be, needs an assent of reason to turn it into an impulse that can move us to action. So now reason does appear in two roles" (A Free Will, 39).

"If you think that death is a terrible evil, it is not surprising that you cannot resist the thought to run as fast as you can, if you see death coming your way. It is your reason, your beliefs, which give your impressions their power. But if you do not think that these impressions have their origin in reason and that their power is due to your beliefs, it becomes rather difficult to understand how they would have such a power over reason that, even if they have little or nothing to recommend them rationally, reason can be brought to assent to them" (A Free Will, 42).

• Explain what Frede means when he says that "now [in the Platonists and Peripatetics] reason does appear in two roles." Explain how this view of reason Frede attributes to these philosophers is different from the view he attributes to Plato and Aristotle.

• The Platonists and Peripatetics think that reason sometimes finds it difficult to resist impulsive impressions that do not have its origin in the rational part of the soul. Explain the problem they face in explaining why such impressions have "power" over reason.

• Frede sets out more than one attempt to explain why reason sometimes finds it difficult to resist impulsive impressions that do not have its origin in the rational part of the soul. He associates one attempt with Origen and another with Evagrius Ponticus and Plotinus. Explain how Frede understands the attempt he associates with Origen.



Assignment #5

"This is what the good life for the Stoics amounts to" (A Free Will, 50).

"So the wise person's will and the divine will coincide. But it is not the case that what motivates a free action is that God wills it" (A Free Will, 53).

"This is a substantial assumption about God's creation" (A Free Will, 55).

• Explain what, according to Frede, the Stoics thought the good life is.

• Explain how, according to Frede, the Stoics think it is possible for a will to be free even though God predetermines everthing that happens.

• Explain why Frede thinks that the Stoic notion of free will is likely no longer applicable to us and thus does not straightforwardly help us understand ourselves and what we do.


Bibliography Project

The ASU library has a collection of databases to search.

Some I find useful are:
JSTOR
L'Année philologique
PhilPapers

For some of your bibliography entries, you might consider some chapters in Emotion and Peace of Mind, Richard Sorabji. (You can download this book from pdfdrive.) Sorabji is not always easy to understand, but he provides a contrast with Frede and includes some bibliography you might find useful.

You might also consider the papers by Katja Vogt and Stephen Menn in the Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy, 2008. (The ASU library allows those with an ASURITE ID to read them online.)

"The Inadvertent Conception and Late Birth of the Free-Will Problem," Phronesis, 1998, 43 (2), 133-175, by Susanne Bozien. This paper is available through the ASU library.
The bibliography project is a summary and assessment of the argument in three academic journal articles or book chapters from the scholarly literature on issues related to points Frede makes in A Free Will. You are to outline the argument the author makes, make a judgment about the plausibility of the argument, and give reasons for your judgment.

Here is an example.

• "Free Will in Antiquity and in Kant," Michael N. Forster. Metaphysics of Freedom? Kant's Concept of Cosmological Freedom in Historical and Systematic Perspective, edited by Christian H. Krijnen. Critical Studies in German Idealism, 10-26, 23, 2018.

Forster sets out what he calls the "standard model" of free will (10). He says that the first step "took place when Socrates and Plato in the fifth and fourth centuries BC projected what had up till that time been the purely socio-political conceptions of freedom vs. slavery or unfreedom inwards into individual souls..." (11). He says that Socrates' and Plato's arguments for this are "vanishingly thin" (12) and that their real motivation consisted in their "shared feeling that contemporary socio-political life—in both its tyrannical and its radical democratic variants—was profoundly oppressive..." (12). "This," he says, "caused them to seek (a) the illusory consolation of a sort of imaginary freedom that lay beyond the reach of socio-political oppression in the individual soul ... and (b) the illusory satisfaction of their desire for revenge on their oppressors that was afforded by depicting them as merely inner slaves..." (12).

Forster does not provide much argument for his interpretation.

Forster seems to think the Apology shows that Socrates found life in Athens to be "profoundly oppressive." Plato, in the Apology, makes the character Socrates call attention to the lack of interest in wisdom in the city, but I do not think this is enough to show that Socrates found life in Athens "profoundly oppressive." Further, we need an argument to show he "projected" a conception of freedom that   "Come, Protagoras, and reveal this about your mind: What do you believe about knowledge? Do you go along with the majority? They think this way about it, that it is not powerful, neither a leader nor a ruler, that while knowledge is often present, what rules is something else, sometimes desire, sometimes pleasure, sometimes pain, at other times love, often fear. They think of knowledge as being dragged around by these other things, as if it were a slave. Does the matter seem like that to you? Or does it seem to you that knowledge is a fine thing capable of ruling, and if someone were to know what is good and bad, he would not be forced by anything to act otherwise than knowledge dictates, and that intelligence would be sufficient to save him?
  Not only does it seem as you say, but it would be shameful for me of all people to say that wisdom and knowledge are anything but the strongest in human affairs" (Protagoras 352a).
applied to life in Athens "inwards into individual souls."

For what Plato thought, Forster cites the Gorgias, Phaedo, Republic, and Seventh Letter. The Seventh Letter is weak evidence because scholars question whether Plato is the author. As for the Gorgias, Phaedo, Republic, they do suggest that Plato thought justice requires cities to be organized differently from how they had been organized. These dialogues also suggest that he thought that some human beings live in a way that can be understood and described by saying that they are "slaves to pleasure." This, though, is too weak to establish Forster's interpretation.

Another problem for Foster's interpretation is that there is reason to think that the use of terms such as 'slave' to describe what happens in the mind in the case of some actions does not originate with Socrates and Plato. In the Protagoras, Socrates describes how "the many" think of knowledge as something that can be dragged around as a slave when someone is overcome by pleasure. The many are the people. They have the common, ordinary views about things.





go back go back