April 20: Free will

Conference to focus on philosophical and scientific work

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11:36 a.m., April 1, 2013--Four noted scholars will speak at a daylong conference at the University of Delaware on Saturday, April 20, focused on current philosophical and scientific work on the subject of free will.

The conference, "Free Will and the Scientific Worldview: Optimistic and Pessimistic Perspectives," will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Perkins Student Center's Ewing Room, followed by a reception. The event is free and open to the public, with no advance registration required.

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Speakers will offer a variety of views on whether we have free will and on the significance of free will for social policy, personal relationships and meaning in life. 

"There’s been a tremendous revival of interest in the free will problem in the last 40 years or so," said Seth Shabo, assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy, which is sponsoring the conference along with UD's Center for Science, Ethics and Public Policy.

"One of the main catalysts for this revival was an essay by the Oxford philosopher P.F. Strawson, titled 'Freedom and Resentment.' In effect, Strawson held that the solution to one of the great metaphysical problems — the problem of free will and determinism — was to be found in the emotions required for personal relationships. To set the stage for his answer, Strawson contrasted two figures, whom he called 'the optimist' and 'the pessimist.'"

The talks at the UD conference are expected to reflect some of these optimistic or pessimistic viewpoints, Shabo said. The speakers are:

  • John Martin Fischer, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of California Riverside, is project leader for the Immortality Project and president of the American Philosophical Association's Pacific Division. His recent collections of essays include Our Stories: Essays on Life, Death and Free Will and Deep Control: Essays on Free Will and Value.
  • Derk Pereboom, professor of philosophy at Cornell University, has written extensively on free will, consciousness, Kant and the philosophy of religion. His recent books include Consciousness and the Prospects of Physicalism and the forthcoming Free Will, Agency, and Meaning in Life.
  • Cendri Hutcherson, a postdoctoral scholar in neuroeconomics, works with Antonio Rangel at the California Institute of Technology. She studies the neural and computational bases of decision-making, with an emphasis on the implementation of self-control in both social and nonsocial contexts.
  • Paul Russell, professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia, has held research and teaching positions at several universities. He is the author of The Riddle of Hume's Treatise and the forthcoming The Limits of Free Will and is co-editor of the anthology Free Will and Reactive Attitudes.
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