This is the web page for the graduate course 24.502 Topics in Metaphysics and Ethics: Free Will given by Richard Holton at MIT Fall 2008. This page provides links to papers and other texts that will be useful. It will also provide pdf versions of the handouts and assignments. If you have suggestions for things that might be posted here, please let me know by emailing me at

The aim of the course is to provide an overview of the history of the idea of free will, starting with the Stoics, and continuing, in a rather erratic fashion, to the Eighteenth Century. It is designed so that MIT graduate students can credit it towards their history requirement. Where relevant contemporary literature will also be discussed. (Of course, one of the central questions will be whether contemporary discussions are relevant: whether the historical figures were concerned with the same questions as we are. But I'm keen for that question to be discussed: charges of anachronism need to be established and not just asserted.)

It would also be nice to tie the historical debates into shifts in broader popular thinking on self-efficacy and the like. I have no idea how one could seriously do that, but I flag it as a worthy goal.

The class will divided up into six sections of two weeks, each focussed on some particular figure or debate (there will be no class on Dec. 2nd). I'll present the first week of each section. The second week will be given over to graduate student presentations. Everyone taking the class for credit will be expected to give a presentation. Space permitting (which it should), anyone auditing the class will be encouraged to do so.


Course outline in pdf

STOICS (9th Sep)

AUGUSTINE (16th Sep)


HOBBES (7 & 14 Oct)

    Vere Chappell (ed.) Hobbes and Bramhall on Liberty and Necessity

    Jurgen Overhoff, Hobbes' Theory of the Will
    Nicholas Jackson Hobbes, Bramhall and the Politics of Liberty and Necessity

LOCKE (21st and 28th Oct)

    Essay Bk II, Ch. XXI 'Of Power'

    Yaffe, Liberty Worth the Name

REID (4th Nov & 19th Nov)

    Essays on the Active Powers of Man

    William Rowe 'The Metaphysics of Freedom' American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 74 (2000)
    -- Thomas Reid on Freedom and Morality
    Timothy O'Connor, 'Thomas Reid on Free Agency' Journal for the History of Philosophy 32 (1994)
    Gideon Yaffe Manifest Activity

KANT (25th Nov and 9th Dec)