Part 1A Metaphysics: Free Will

This is the web page for the Philosophy Part 1A lectures on Freewill given by Richard Holton at the University of Cambridge, Michaelmas term 2015. Lectures take place on Thursdays at 12.00 am in Sidgwick LR1. This page provides links to papers and other texts that may be useful and to pdf versions of the handouts. If you have suggestions or comments, please let me know by emailing me at

The literature on free will is enormous. Here I give just the readings that I will focus on in lectures, and that you would benefit from reading beforehand. You should at least aim to have understood the primary reading. Supervisors will doubtless assign other things. Links are often via JSTOR. You should have direct access to this if you are on a University network. If you are accessing this page from elsewhere you will probably need to authenticate via Raven. Some article that are not available via JSTOR will be made available via Moodle (Raven authorization required).

General reading

For a good summary of four of the now standard views on free will, you could have a look at John Martin Fischer et al Four Views on Free Will (Blackwell 2007). It is hard going in places though, so it might be something to look at towards the end of the course, to help bring things into focus, rather than to skim through at the beginning.


1. Introduction: Some problems and the classical compatibilist response (8 October)

[Handout 1]

Primary Reading

There is nothing you have to read in advance, but next week we’ll be discussing a couple of pieces, so it might be a good idea to have a look at the first of them, Harry Frankfurt Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person Journal of Philosophy 68 (1971)

Secondary Reading

For a brief discussion of the differences between determinism as a metaphysical doctrine and the idea that we can predict what we will do, see my only venture into on-line teaching.

Here is another piece floating worries from recent neuroscience. (The article on which this is based is Soon, Brass, Heinze & Haynes, ‘ Unconscious Determinants of Free Decisions in the Human Brain.’ Nature Neuroscience 11:543–545 (2008))

2. Frankfurt and Wolf (15th October)

[Handout 2]

Primary Reading

Secondary Reading

3. Lewis on Law-breaking (22th October)

[Handout 3]

Primary Reading

4. Libertarianism (29th October)

[Handout 4]

Primary Reading

5. Responsibility and the ability to do otherwise (5th November)

[Handout 5]

Primary Reading

6. Strawson and the Participant Stance (12th November)

[Handout 6]

Primary Reading

Secondary Reading