Honors | Literature and Ideas (CMLT)
C347 | 27205 | Oscar Kenshur

On other planets, there is presumably no talk of free will because
the inhabitants view the behavior of intelligent beings the same way
they view the behavior of other bodies in the natural world, namely,
as the product of physical laws. But here on earth, free will has
long been a topic of discussion because of its role in conceptions
of human dignity and in explanations of the origin of evil. Human
suffering has often been seen as a divine punishment for
transgressions, and the fairness of this punishment has been seen to
depend on the notion that the transgressor freely chose to commit
his crime. And this freedom to choose evil has been seen not as
curse, but as one of the things that links the human to the divine.
Moreover, it has been argued, to view humans as lacking free will is
to view them as no better than machines.  This conception of free
will, however, has been challenged in various ways.  It has been
argued, for example, not only that a good god would protect his
creatures from the consequences of free will, but even that God
could only be good if he himself lacked free will and was guided by
principles that he had not invented.

The course will examine ways in which this debate has challenged
writers who have undertaken the task of explaining human or divine
behavior, or the task of explaining evil. We will be particularly
interested in examining the relationship between philosophical
arguments and fictional narratives. Can a narrative exemplify a
principle in such a way as to make it convincing? The tentative
reading list includes the following works:
Aeschylus, The Oresteia
Shakespeare, Othello
Racine, Phèdre
Voltaire, Candide
Hume, Of Liberty and Necessity
Dostoevsky, Notes from Underground
Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener
Sartre, The Flies