London Philosophy Club Reading Group

Free will

’Tis commonly allow’d that mad-men have no liberty. But were we to judge by their actions, these have less regularity and constancy than the actions of wise-men, and consequently are farther remov’d from necessity. Our way of thinking in this particular is, therefore, absolutely inconsistent; but is a natural consequence of these confus’d ideas and undefin’d terms, which we so commonly make use of in our reasonings, especially on the present subject.

David Hume (A Treatise of Human Nature, Book II Part III, Section I)

This time we’ll explore just how confus’d we can become when trying to make sense of the notions of free will and determinism. Are they compatible? If not, what conclusions would an ‘incompatibilist’ position lead to.

J.J.C. Smart ‘Praise and Blame’ sets out a ‘compatibilist’ position by trying to refute the ‘libertarian’ theory of free will – and reflects on whether his conclusions ought to modify common attitudes of praise and blame. [Go to More tab above for access]

Peter Van Ingwagen ‘The Incompatibility of Free Will and Determinism’ takes an opposite tack

Van Ingwagen’s 1983 Essay on Free Will outlines a similar argument (around £16.00 from Amazon).

Galen Strawson ‘The Impossibility of Moral Responsibility’ addresses the entire issue of moral responsibility and argues that individuals cannot be morally responsible in the way that many people suppose. Can be accessed on>

All these papers are in Free Will edited by Gary Watson (OUP, 2003) – about £13 second-hand on Amazon.


At this session, we can also review topics we might turn to in the autumn – hopefully we can reconvene in September.

Suggestions have included:

1.  Philosophy of science – Kuhn, Popper and others.

2.  Scepticism, relativism and absolutism.

3.  Phenomenology – Husserl to Merleau-Ponty

4.  Classical Greek philosophy

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  • bill t.

    I could send you a copy of my book which explains it if you wish?

    May 25, 2014

    • Lorenz waiting

      June 19, 2014

  • Lorenz

    Hi iam Lorenz from Kenya, I love philosophy and i am currently pursuing a Degree in Philosophy at EGERTON university, Kenya.
    I need friends on facebook who we can be sharing philosophical exposures and tackling difficulties.
    You can add me, Lorenz Karachu Sharkur

    June 19, 2014

  • Godfrey S.

    A lovely and enjoyable discussion. It was great that everyone had done the reading.

    June 18, 2014

  • Paul

    Sorry. I can't make it now: childcare duties

    June 17, 2014

  • bill t.

    prior appointment but for the following series/sessions would like phenomenology although all the discussions I have been to, two, have been very pleasant and discursive

    June 10, 2014

  • Mike F.

    Hi Guys

    Something came up (and it's not a football match). Can't make it now. Really sorry to miss the last session, been a great series. Thanks Pete. My vote would be Philosophy of science, but I'm happy with any of them really.

    June 10, 2014

  • Dmitry

    Perhaps this lecture would be interesting for some of you. Sam Harris effectively argues against the possibility of free will from both idealistic and materialistic points of view, and comes to his own conclusion from two absolutely opposite directions, namely subjectivity and objectivity.

    Finally I seemed that Hegel was not very wrong when he wrote that: freedom is conscious necessity. But with Sam's achievement we are losing the last glimmer of hope in this quote: consciousness.

    June 9, 2014

  • Shani

    Not v.easy to get into Central London weekday eves; please let me know if anything on at weekends

    May 25, 2014

  • Jacqui

    My first event with this club. Looking forward to it.

    May 25, 2014

  • Godfrey S.

    .Looking forward to this. One of my favourite topics - very tough.

    May 25, 2014

  • bill t.

    sadly I have an appointment with ENO on that night, so must miss this

    May 24, 2014

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