Centre for Continuing Education

Philosophy Course: Free Will, Fate, and Determinism

Philosophy. Study the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence.

This philosophy course considers the various puzzles concerning the definition, nature and existence of free will, and the two alleged threats to free will: determinism and fate.

Join us for a discussion on determinism as the main threat to freedom. Arguments for and against whether free will exists will be considered.

This course will refer to the films, Minority Report and The Adjustment Bureau throughout.


This course aims to teach the main ideas, distinctions, arguments, and the technical vocabulary in recent debates about free will and determinism.


By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • compare various approaches to understanding the alleged dilemma between free will and determinism
  • evaluate different arguments for and against particular theories of free will
  • discuss the implications of holding particular views about free will and determinism
  • apply these findings to your life and your observations of the world.


1. Introduction: The free will problem

  • Defining free will. What free will isn’t: political freedom
  • Two kinds of necessity: determinism and fate
  • Is free will compatible with determinism?
  • Is free will compatible with indeterminism?
  • Basic approaches to the free will question: compatibilism and incompatibilism, illusionism and revisionism

2. Free will, values and moral responsibility

  • Why do we value free will?
  • Is free will needed for moral responsibility, praise and blame?

3. Compatibilism

  • The appeal of compatibilism and critiques
  • Two versions of compatibilism:
    • Peter Strawson’s ‘reactive attitudes’ theory
    • Harry Frankfurt’s ‘Hierarchy of Desires’ theory

4. Libertarianism (Incompatibilism 1)

  • Agent causation – appeal and critiques
  • Conditions for libertarianism
    • The alternative possibilities condition
    • The source-hood condition
  • Arguments for incompatibilism: The Consequence Argument; The Manipulation Argument.

5. Hard determinism and free will illusionism / (incompatibilism 2)

  • Brief overview of the arguments for hard determinism from the following contemporary philosophers:
    • Galen Strawson
    • Saul Smilansky

6. Discussion 1: Free will and theology

  • The divine foreknowledge and free will dilemma
  • Film: Minority Report. Motifs from Pre-Crime arresting individuals on the basis of pre-cognition

7. Discussion 2: Free will and you

  • Workshop summary
  • Self-Determination, Self-Forming Actions and your Character
  • Film: Adjustment Bureau

Intended audience

Anyone with an interest in philosophy, free will, moral responsibility, or particular interests in understanding science-fiction genre with the motifs of free will, fate and determinism.


There are no prerequisites, but you are encouraged to watch the films Minority Report and The Adjustment Bureau before attending.

Delivery style

This is a one-day workshop. Topics and final discussions are roughly divided into hour-long segments. There will be questions and discussion times for each major theme in the workshop.


Handouts are provided in class.

Recommended reading

The following sections list reading excerpts from the main text:

Kane, R. (2005) A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Part 1 — Introduction: The Free Will Problem

  • Chapter 1 “The Free Will Problem”, pp. 1-11.
  • Chapter 2 “Compatibilism”, §5, part 4. 'Don’t confuse determinism with fatalism', pp. 19-20.

Part 2 – Free Will, Values and Moral Responsibility

Read introduction only of:

Eshleman, A., “Moral Responsibility”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), view here.

Part 3 – Compatibilism

  • Chapter 2 “Compatibilism”, pp. 12 – 22.
  • Chapter 9 "Higher-order Desires, Real Selves, and New Compatibilists."
    • Read sections: 1,2 & 5.
  • Chapter 10 "Reactive Attitudes Theories"
    • Read sections: 1,3 & 4.

Part 4 — Libertarianism (Incompatibilism 1)

  • Chapter 3 “Incompatibilism”, pp. 23 – 31.
  • Chapter 4 “Libertarianism, Indeterminism, and Chance.” Whole chapter except §4. 'Reasons, Randomness, and Luck.'
  • Chapter 5 “Minds Selves, and Agent Causes.”
    • Read §1, 3 & 4

Part 5 — Hard Determinism and Free Will Illusionism (Incompatibilism 2)

  • Chapter 7 "Is Free Will Possible? Hard Determinists and Other Sceptics.
    • Read sections §1, 2, 3 & 6

Part 6 — Discussion 1: Free Will and Theology

  • Chapter 13 "Predestination, Divine Foreknowledge, and Free Will"
    • Read whole chapter except §6 'The Ockham’s Solution: William of Ockham"
  • Re-read Chapter 10 §4. 'Judas Set Up?'

Part 7 — Discussion 2: Free Will and You

  • Chapter 14 “Conclusion: Five Freedoms” (Whole chapter).

Further Reading

“Free Will” by Kevin Timpe, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ISSN 2161-0002, view here. Accessed 18 February 2019.

“Foreknowledge and Free Will” by Norman Swartz, The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ISSN 2161-0002, view here. Accessed 18 February 2019.


  • Expert trainers
  • Central locations
  • Free, expert advice
  • Course materials – yours to keep
  • CCE Statement of Completion