Lectures on Philosophy

If you want to listen to lectures on philosophy, there is a set of lectures given by Hank Green which are as good — if not better — than those given in a college. One reason for their quality is that these lectures have been edited, so they come off as polished presentations. [This can be appreciated by looking at some of the outtakes.]

Here is the Crash Course Philosophy List. There seem to be 46 lectures.

However, just because these lectures are good or even better of their kind — I mean as lectures; classroom lectures are better in one respect. They allow the audience to ask for clarification and allow for criticism.

And, indeed, these internet lectures need clarifications and are subject to criticism.

I will offer one such criticism of the lecture on compatibilism.

Compatibilism is the thesis that determinism and free will are compatible claims. However, before even offering to clarify what is meant by “free will,” the lecturer moves rather quickly to the question of responsibility. These, as I see it, are distinct issues. By not offering a clarification of “free will,” the lecturer muddles the issue.

Doing something freely (or of one’s free will) is to be contrasted with being forced to do something by another person. This is the kind of freedom which is sought by all human beings, and is dramatically illustrated by Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart, screaming for freedom:

My primary concern is to stay alive, and I can do this if I am free (from someone) forbidding me from taking up subsistence land.

Imagine a person, Friday, on an island foraging for food. He is free from the commands, whims, and brute force of another person.

Then comes Robinson Crusoe who subdues Friday and shackles him to a tree. Friday is no longer free. He is shackled so his limbs are not free, and he is no longer free from the dictates of Crusoe.

What does this predicament of Friday have to do with whether all of this or any of this situation is determined by natural forces? Whether you are a determinist or an indeterminist in science, is irrelevant to Friday’s plight. In this sense, free will is compatible with both determinism and indeterminism because whether Friday is free from the whims of Crusoe is a different question.

Incidentally, this question of the freedom of some people from the dictates of others (which is at the bottom of the capitalist, socialist, and anarchist debates) is for some reason excluded from these internet lectures.


As to the question of responsibility, one could start with actual legal law. Take a case of one person being accussed of killing another person. In law this is called manslaughter, but whether this manslaughter warrants to be called murder is a complex matter. Even with murder the law makes a distinction of degrees.

There are two very enlightening articles on this topic written by John Austin: “A Plea for Excuses” and “Three Ways of Spilling Ink.”

Objection to my position

Someone may justifiably object to my criticism by claiming that it is an evasion from the problem as stated. Well, what is the problem as stated? In terms of the Friday/Crusoe situation, the question is whether Friday — before the entry of Crusoe on the scene — acts freely, in some other sense.

OK, I did not address myself to making sense of this question, and if the term “compatibilism” is used as an answer to this question, then when I used the term “compatibilism,” it was to answer a different question. Let us, then distinguish, “compatibilism (1)” for the former, and “compatibilism (2)” for the latter.

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