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Free Will

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 10 March 2011

In the 500th edition of the programme, Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the philosophical idea of free will.

Free will - the extent to which we are free to choose our own actions - is one of the most absorbing philosophical problems, debated by almost every great thinker of the last two thousand years. In a universe apparently governed by physical laws, is it possible for individuals to be responsible for their own actions? Or are our lives simply proceeding along preordained paths? Determinism - the doctrine that every event is the inevitable consequence of what goes before - seems to suggest so.

Many intellectuals have concluded that free will is logically impossible. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza regarded it as a delusion. Albert Einstein wrote: "Human beings, in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free agents but are as causally bound as the stars in their motion." But in the Enlightenment, philosophers including David Hume found ways in which free will and determinism could be reconciled. Recent scientific developments mean that this debate remains as lively today as it was in the ancient world.

With:

Simon Blackburn
Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge

Helen Beebee
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Birmingham

Galen Strawson
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading

Producer: Thomas Morris.

  • FURTHER READING

    MOST COMPREHENSIVE:

    ‘The Oxford Handbook of Free Will’, ed. Robert Kane (Oxford University Press)

    ‘Free Will’, ed. Gary Watson [Oxford Readings in Philosophy], (Oxford University Press; 2nd edition, 2003)

    CLASSIC:

    Lucretius, ‘De Rerum Natura’

    David Hume, ‘An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding’, Chapter 8 (Oxford University Press; New Ed edition, 2008)

    Arthur Schopenhauer, ‘On the Freedom of the Will’ (Oxford: Blackwell)

    Daniel Dennett, ‘Elbow Room’ (MIT Press: Bradford Books)

    Peter Strawson, “Freedom and Resentment” in ‘Free Will’, ed. Gary Watson [Oxford Readings in Philosophy], (Oxford University Press; 2nd edition, 2003)

    Benjamin Libet, ‘Do We Have Free Will?’, Journal of Consciousness Studies 6 (1999), 47-57

    Harry Frankfurt, ‘Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility’, Journal of Philosophy 66 (1969), 829-839

    Thomas Nagel, The View from Nowhere (OUP, 1986), Chapter 7


    INTRODUCTORY:

    Simon Blackburn, ‘Think’, Chapter 3 (Oxford University Press)

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