Free Will in Ancient Thought

PHI 420. Writing Assignments, Bibliography Project, Final Paper.

The assignments are different for undergraduate and graduate students.

The writing assignments are worth 10 points each.
The bibliography project is worth 15 points for undergraduates and 25 points for graduate students.
The final paper is only for graduate students. It is worth 25 points.

Writing Assignments

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

Your answers should be detailed, clear, and thoughtful. Brief, hard to understand answers that look to have been dashed off will not receive full credit. Write so that someone who does not know the answer can begin to understand the issues on the basis of what you write. 1 Here is an example.

Assignment 1

• Explain the difference between a technical and an ordinary notion.

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

Assignment 2

• Explain how Frede understands the Tripartite Theory of the Soul in Plato and Aristotle.

• Explain why Frede thinks Aristotle does not have a notion of the will.

Assignment 3

• Explain why Frede thinks that the early Stoics do not have a notion of the will.

• Explain why Frede thinks that Epictetus does have a notion of the will.

Assignment 4

• Explain what Frede means when he says that "now [in the Platonists and Peripatetics] reason does appear in two roles." Be sure to explain what the thinks these two roles are.

• As Frede understands them, the Platonists and Peripatetics think that reason finds it difficult to resist impulsive impressions that have their origin in the nonrational part of the soul. Explain the problem the Platonists and Peripatetics face in explaining why such impressions have this power over reason.

Assignment 5

• According to Frede, the late Stoics think the will is naturally free. Explain what Frede thinks they meant.

Bibliography Project

The ASU library has a collection of bibliographic databases. The most useful for our purposes is PhilPapers. The bibliography project is a summary and assessment of the argument in academic journal articles or book chapters from the scholarly literature in the history of Ancient philosophy on issues related to points Frede makes in A Free Will. For undergraduates, the bibliography project should consists in a summary of at least three journal articles or book chapters. For graduate students, it should consist in at least five.

For each article or book chapter, you are to outline the argument the author makes, make a judgment about the plausibility of the argument, and give reasons for your judgment.

Follow the format in this example.

1. "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.

Point in the article or chapter:

Forster sets out what he calls the "standard model" of free will (10). He says that the first step toward this way of thinking about free will "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," Forster argues, "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).

Critical discussion of the point:

In my view, Forster's interpretation of Socrates and Plato is not very plausible.

  "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 (ἀνδραπόδου). 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).
In Plato's 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. They do not espouse philosophical theories. So it appears that Socrates and Plato were not the first to use the terms "slave" and "ruler" to understand what happens in the mind. If this is true, then it is false that "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).

The evidence Foster cites to show that Socrates and Plato found life in Athens to be "profoundly oppressive" is weak. He cites Plato's Apology, Gorgias, Republic, and Seventh Letter. Unlike the Apology, Gorgias, Republic, it is questionable whether Plato is the author of the Seventh Letter. In the Apology, Socrates calls attention to the lack of interest in wisdom in the city of Athens. The Gorgias depicts the tyrant as a slave to his appetites. The Republic argues that justice requires cities to be organized differently from how they had been organized. Contrary to what Forster claims, none of this shows that Socrates and Plato found life in Athens "profoundly oppressive."

Even if Socrates and Plato did find life in Athens "profoundly oppressive," I see no reason to think that their reaction would have been to seek "revenge on their oppressors" by "depicting them as merely inner slaves." Forster looks "beyond what they say explicitly for the deeper psychological motives" (12) because he thinks their arguments are "vanishingly thin." This is a reasonable strategy for tying to understand what Socrates and Plato thought, but nothing we know about them makes them seem as crazy as Forster portrays them.

Final Paper (for graduate students only)

Your paper must be related to points about the history of Ancient philosophy that Frede makes in A Free Will. This is a class in the history of philosophy. Do not submit a paper in which you argue that human beings do or do not have free will. Such arguments belong to philosophy, not the history of philosophy.

I recommend that you discuss your thesis with me before you write your paper.

go back go back