Free Will in Ancient Thought

PHI 420/581. Answers to Prompts, Bibliography Project, Term Paper

The assignments are discussion posts, prompts, bibliography project, final paper.

Discussion posts: 5 points each unit, 30 points total. In each post, you are to call attention to something in the reading for the unit you found interesting and you are to explain why you found it interesting. These posts must be thoughtful. Discussion posts written with little apparent care and attention to detail will not receive full credit.

You are free to discuss the prompts and post questions about them. Here is an example answer.

Prompts: 5 points for each unit. 30 points total. In your answers, you are to demonstrate that you understand the historical and philosophical issues in the prompts. The best way to do this is to provide answers to the prompts that would be helpful to someone who is not already familiar with these issues. Take this advice seriously. Answers short on explanation of the historical and philosophical issues will not receive full credit.

Bibliography project. 20 points. You are to analyze at least five 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. Academic journal articles and book chapters can cover a lot of ground and be hard to understand. Your analyses need not discuss everything in the article or book chapter. Focus on the thesis and a main point in the argument.

Final paper. 20 points.

In these assignments, the standard is higher for graduate students.

Prompts for Unit 1

• Explain what Frede thinks the difference is between a technical and an ordinary notion.

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

Prompts for Unit 2

• Explain how Frede understands the Tripartite Theory of the Soul in Plato and Aristotle. Be sure to explain what Frede means when he says that for Plato and Aristotle, "reason is not made to appear in two roles, first as presenting its own case and then as adjudicating the conflict by making a decision or choice" (A Free Will, 23).

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

Prompts for Unit 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.

Prompts for Unit 4

• Explain what Frede means when he says that "now [in the Platonists and Peripatetics] reason does appear in two roles" (A Free Will, 39). 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 he thinks the Platonists and Peripatetics face in explaining why such impressions have this power over reason.

Prompt for Unit 5

• According to Frede, the late Stoics thought that the will is naturally free. Explain what he thinks they mean.

Bibliography Project

The ASU library has a collection of bibliographic databases. The most useful for our purposes is PhilPapers.

Reviews of A Free Will are not acceptable for your bibliography project. Nor are articles or book chapters that are about free will but are outside the period of history Frede discusses. Finally, your articles and book chapters must be from the scholarly literature.

You are to outline the main line of argument in the article or book chapter, make a judgment about the plausibility of this argument, and give reasons for your judgment.

Here is an example. In your bibliography project, use the form I use in this example.

Example Entry in the Bibliography Project

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.

Argument 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 argument:

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

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, the Gorgias, and the Republic, it is controversial 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. 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.

The dialogues provide evidence against Foster's interpretation.

  "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).
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 if Socrates is repeating what the many think in the words they themselves use to express their thoughts, Socrates and Plato were not the first to use the terms "slave" and "ruler" to describe how what happens in the mind causes us to act the way we do. If this is right, 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).

Final Paper

The term paper must be about a historical point Frede makes in his argument in A Free Will. Your paper should be around fifteen pages in length. I am happy to help you find a thesis, to discuss your argument with you, and to read drafts of your paper.

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