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Colloquium: Marie Jayasekera
January 24 @ 12:00 pm - 2:00 pm
Marie Jayasekera (Cal State Long Beach)
‘Experience in early modern arguments about free will‘
Tuesday January 24th • 12:00pm–2:00pm • LA2–206
Abstract: Our experience when deliberating about or deciding what to do is commonly invoked in arguments about the nature of free will. In the early modern period, philosophers with starkly differing conceptions of the natural world, the self, human freedom, and their relationships (among them, Hobbes, Descartes, Locke, and Reid) used experience to support their claims about freedom. But there are significant challenges to using experience to justify one’s claims about the nature of free will. First of all, there is no agreement about what the relevant experiences are, and it may be that our antecedent commitments about free will might be affecting our identification of the relevant experiences. This motivates a foundational challenge to the strategy: there is no reason to think that our experiences reveal anything about the nature of free will. Experience tells us just what is in our minds—what we are feeling or thinking. I motivate the thesis that, for early modern thinkers, the legitimacy of the use of experience is derivative. It derives from the legitimacy of an underlying fundamental theory a thinker holds about the nature of the mind, language, knowledge, and/or philosophical method. These fundamental theories are distinct from thinkers’ views about the nature of freedom and have—at least in principle—independent justification. This thesis renders the problem of disagreement moot, and pinpoints where the problem of justification arises: not at the level of experience, but at the level of the fundamental theory.