If everything we do is determined by past states of the world together with the laws of physics, can we really be said to have free will? And if not, would we have to give up moral responsibility, too?
This vexed question was the discussion topic at the first philosophy club meeting of the year, held Friday September 3rd in James Blair Hall. A classic article by 20th-century Oxford philosopher P. F. Strawson, entitled "Freedom and Resentment", was used as a way of focusing the discussion and encouraging responses from the two dozen students who came to the meeting. Strawson argues that even if determinism were true, we neither could nor should give up the attitudes of resentment, indignation, and guilt -- attitudes that are typically associated with holding one another (and ourselves) morally responsible for wrongdoing.
Many of the students at the meeting agreed with Strawson; many disagreed. This made the discussion lively and interesting, and nearly everyone present had something to say to help further our understanding of this difficult issue. An hour is not nearly enough time to settle a question that has been discussed for millenia, but one of the things that philosophy club helps you realize is that often the unanswered questions are the most important ones to ask.
The philosophy club is advised by Professor Chris Freiman, and its student officers are Adam Lerner (President) and Carolyn Fisher (Vice President). If you are interested in attending future club meetings (usually held Friday afternoons at 4pm), check the Philosophy Club section of this website or get in touch with [[e|ajlerner, Adam]] to join the email listserv.