William James, first webcast in my Philosophers and Scientists series

In yesterday’s lecture on Free Will, we saw how Bob Kane’s Oxford Handbook of Free Will, second edition, mentioned that my two-stage model of free will might be found in the 19th-century writings of William James.

We continue today with James’ work on consciousness, the human mind, and the critical contribution of chance to biological evolution and human creativity.

James insisted on the reality of alternative possibilities in our future, and that these must sometimes be the result of chance. He attacked both “hard determinism” and “soft determinism” (today’s “compatibilism“), which he called a “wretched subterfuge.”

James wrote:

“The stronghold of the determinist argument is the antipathy to the idea of chance. As soon as we begin to talk indeterminism to our friends, we find a number of them shaking their heads. This notion of alternative possibility, they say, this admission that any one of several things may come to pass is, after all, only a roundabout name for chance; and chance is something the notion of which no sane mind can for an instant tolerate in the world.”

I hope to see you at 3.

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