Directed Readings: The Problem of Free Will




Steven W. Patterson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Philosophy and Religious Studies Dept., Marygrove College

Contact Information

Office Phone: 313-927-1539
Departmental Phone: 313-927-1556
e-mail: Note: The best way to reach me is via e-mail. Remove the underscores before and after the '@' or just use this Contact form.
Office:346 Madame Cadillac Hall
Open Office Hours:Tuesdays and Thursdays, 12:30-1:30 PM If you cannot make it to open office hours, e-mail me to schedule an appointment.

Course Information

Meeting Times: Meeting Times: Tuesdays, 3:00-4:15 PM, room MC 346
Credit Hours: 3, Satisfies General Education Requirements
Prerequisites: LS105, ENG 107 (or equivalent), and at least one prior course in philosophy.

Course Objectives

Critical thinking lies at the very heart of philosophy. Thus the principal aim of this course is to afford the student introductory exposure to philosophical methods of critical thinking. Together as colleagues we will practice techniques for identifying, analyzing and evaluating claims using the techniques and concepts of both formal and informal logic. These skills, once acquired, are easily and fruitfully transferred to nearly any problem requiring a thoughtful approach. A student who successfully completes the course requirements will thus advance his or her level of proficiency in some of the most important cognitive skills a person can have.

By approaching these questions through a diverse array of sources and media, and through focused attention to concepts such as relevance and expertise, the successful student will gain an appreciation for how good critical thinking skills can help to navigate through what is increasingly an overwhelming amount of information. This will afford the student with an enhanced ability not just to evaluate individual claims and their supporting reasons, but sources of claims. Hence the course has a secondary aim of enhancing students’ fundamental information literacy skills.

The ability to read, write, and think critically and carefully about difficult problems that resist easy solution is integral to leadership in any domain. Because they are so widely applicable to concrete problems, development of the sort of critical thinking skills that make up the philosophical method is a fundamental part of general education, and one of the chief benefits of a course of this nature. Students who successfully complete the course should find, as they carry the skills they learn forward in time, that their cognitive resourcefulness is enhanced as result.

Finally, because the techniques of critical thinking do take time and dedication to master, this course has been specifically designed to assist students in developing consistent routines and good habits for intellectual work. A student who completes the requirements will, in doing so, have cultivated not only these good work habits, but his or her intellectual discipline as well. Thus this course has the fourth objective of helping students become more effective, self-motivated and self-disciplined life-long learners.

Core Question

  1. What does it mean to be a critical thinker?

Student Responsibilities


Class Preparation Assignments

The student will be expected to attend each meeting having prepared a short (1-2 page) reflective summary of the week's reading that accurately sums up the principal points of the reading and that demonstrates a level of critical reflection on the work commensurate with upper division philosophical study.


There will be two papers due in this class. The timeframe and general subject matter information are given in the course plan at the end of this syllabus. More specific information and guidelines will be discussed at the meetings as the dates approach.

Attendance and Participation

Philosophy, by its nature, is a highly discursive subject that requires a great deal of intellectual discipline and individual engagement of students both with the instructor and with each other. Because a community of thinkers is necessary to the enterprise, informed, consistent participation is the single most important component of our class work. Merely coming to class is not enough. The Participation component of the grade is based on two factors: 1) timely attendance to every class meeting, and 2) competent preparation and participation.

Timely Attendance:

Quality participation is impossible if one is absent or habitually late. So regular and timely attendance is expected and attendance will be taken at every class meeting (excepting the first week) via a sign-in sheet that will be circulated by the instructor at the beginning of class. Students in this class shall be allowed two (2) unexcused absences. Unexcused absences exceeding two and excessive lateness in attendance to class shall warrant deductions from the day’s participation grade. Excessive lateness shall be defined for our purposes as arriving at class fifteen minutes or more after class has begun. Excessive lateness and any absences will be excused upon proof of sufficiently extenuating circumstances to the satisfaction of the instructor.

Preparation and Participation:

Quality participation requires that you come to class prepared, and this entails doing the study questions provided for each reading on Blackboard. Although preparation is required, complete understanding is not a prerequisite for participation.

Some examples of how participation credit can be earned:
  • Thoughtful questions about the material
  • Thoughtful comments about the material
  • Philosophically relevant questions or comments, even if they’re not about the material
  • Respectful discussion with one’s colleagues at appropriate times
Some examples of how participation credit can be lost:
  • Being unprepared when called upon
  • Habitual/ Recurring Lateness
  • Inappropriate questions and comments
  • Any behavior that is disrespectful or that distracts from the learning of others.
  • Sleeping
  • Frequently departing from and returning to the classroom while class is in session
  • Text-messaging, web-surfing or otherwise manipulating small electronic devices while class is in session
  • Eating
  • Studying materials for other classes
  • Side discussions

The basic rule is: Good participation moves class discussion forward; poor participation hinders it.

The participation component of the course is intended to measure students’ preparedness, ability to deploy critical thinking skills discursively, and willingness and ability to function collegially with one another and with the instructor for the common purpose of meeting the course objectives.

Final Grade Distribution

Attendance 20%
Class Prep Assignments 15%
Paper 1 25%
Paper 2 30%
Total 100%

Course Policies

Conduct Policy

It is expected that all persons in this class will comport themselves with the dignity and respect due to themselves and to their colleagues. This includes coming to class on time, refraining from having side-discussions while lecture is in progress, refraining from studying materials for other classes during lecture, refraining from bringing any food to class, refraining from texting during class, and leaving at home or turning off any and all items that make sudden, disruptive noises, especially cell phones. Please don’t bring children to class unless it is absolutely unavoidable, and if you must do so please notify me in advance as early as possible. Failure to observe these guidelines may result in deductions from the Participation grade.

Late and Make-up Work Policy

Students are accountable for turning in all assigned work on time. As in the "real world" late work is not accepted, ever, for any reason. Please don't ask. The answer is "no". You will be given sufficient time for the completion of all work assigned to you in this class. The opportunity to miss two sets of study questions and two days of class without penalty should compensate for the usual sort of absences. I will not even consider scheduling or accepting make-up assignments unless:

  1. more than two have been missed and
  2. highly unusual, severe, and sufficiently verifiable circumstances have been demonstrated to my satisfaction.

If you know, or suspect that you will be absent on the day that an assignment is due, please notify the instructor as far in advance as possible so that satisfactory alternative arrangements can be made. You cannot expect accommodation on short notice (i.e. phone messages left at 4 AM the morning of class).

Do not e-mail, FAX, or by any other means convey late or early assignments to the instructor without a prior arrangement to do so. Assignments received in such ways will be disregarded.

If you miss class for any reason, it is your responsibility to get the notes from a classmate and familiarize yourself with whatever material you may have missed. I do not give out my notes.

I highly recommend making at least one contact in class who can provide you with notes and assignments in the event that you miss class. In the interest of fairness to all, no make-up work of any

Withdrawal Policy

All withdrawal slips will be signed with no questions asked. Incompletes (grades of “I”) will not be given unless: 1) highly unusual and severe circumstances prevent a student from completing the work necessary to complete the class, 2) enough work has been done, in the instructor’s judgment, to leave only a minimal amount of work remaining for the student to complete, and 3) the student expressly requests a such a grade at least one week before the day scheduled by the College for the final exam.

Plagiarism and Cheating Policy

Plagiarism or cheating on any assignment will not be tolerated for any reason. Should you do either you will receive an “E” for the assignment on the first occasion, and the student’s adviser and the Dean will be informed in accord with Marygrove’s academic standards policy. Repeated offenses will merit stronger disciplinary measures, which the instructor will pursue. Students are encouraged to consult the Academic Honesty policy in the Undergraduate Catalog for more detailed information.

Required Texts

John Martin Fischer, Robert Kane, Derek Pereboom, and Manuel Vargas, Four Views on Free Will (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing) 2008. ISBN: 978-1-4051-3486-6

Jonah Lehrer, How We Decide (New York: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) 2009. ISBN: 978-0-547-24799-1

Others TBA, as necessary & expedient.

Instructor Responsibilities


Grading is the instructor's responsibility. Students have the right to grades given solely on the merit of the points achieved and weighted as described under the Assignments section of this syllabus. Accordingly, no curves, preset distributions, or other forms of manipulation will be used. All grades will be based solely on the quality of work as reflected in the points achieved. Remember that no one grade says anything about one’s overall intelligence, personal work ethic or personality. A grade (in this class at least) merely reflects performance on the assignments. Concentrate on developing your understanding of the material and the grades will follow.

Grading Scale

The grading scale below will be used to determine all letter grades in this class, including the final grade. It is completely and without exception a non-negotiable item.

A 100% - 94.5% A- 94.4% - 88.9% B+ 88.8% - 85.2%
B 85.1% - 81.5% B- 81.4% - 77.8% C+ 77.7% - 74.1%
C 74.0% - 70.4% C- 70.3% - 66.7% D+ 66.6% - 63.0%
D 62.9% - 59.3% D- 59.2% - 55.6% E 55.5% - 0%

Syllabus Revisions

The instructor bears the sole responsibility to revise any part of this syllabus should it become necessary to do so. Any such revision that takes place will be announced in class with as much advance notice as the circumstances permit. It is the student’s responsibility to remain abreast of any such changes and to alter his or her own workload accordingly. In the absence of any notification to the contrary, students should follow the course plan and reading schedule as given below, or the most recent set of revisions (if any have been made). The silence of this syllabus on any matter that may arise pertaining to this class shall not be construed to indicate that the matter is up for debate. The instructor’s interpretation of this syllabus shall be final and binding.


Students are welcome to stop by the instructor’s office anytime. Appointments are only necessary for meetings requested at times other than office hours. The most effective way to reach the instructor outside of office hours is by e-mail. Second best is by office phone. The instructor will make every effort to answer reasonable requests for help with class related matters so long as such requests are respectful. Students should be aware that e-mails sent before 9 AM, after 9 PM, or anytime on Sunday will generally not be answered right away. The same goes for phone calls placed during times other than office hours.

Disability Policy

The Instructor will, by arrangement with the student and Disability Support Services (DSS), offer reasonable accommodation for all properly documented, College-recognized disabilities. DSS offers a variety of services and accommodations to students with disabilities based on appropriate documentation, nature of disability, and academic need. In order to initiate services, students should meet with the Coordinator of DSS at the start of the semester to discuss reasonable accommodations. If a student does not request accommodations or provide documentation to DSS, the faculty member is under no obligation to provide academic accommodations. You may contact the Coordinator of DSS at 313-927-1427 or through e-mail at

Course Plan

Week 1-Week 8:

We will read Four Views on Free Will, at the rate of one chapter per week.

A short paper will be due at the end of Week 8, the principal goal of which will be for the student to make a careful assessment of the views covered in the book with aim of arriving at a position on which view (of those covered) is the most plausible.

Week 8-Week 12:

We will read How We Decide, at the rate of two chapters per week.

Weeks 13-Week 15:

We will cover additional readings to be decided in conjunction between the professor and the student, with the aim of supporting research on a final paper. While the specific topic will be decided collaboratively, the overall aim of the paper will be to integrate the neurobiological information of the second book with one or more of the philosophical positions of the first in a meaningful and informative way.

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