Writing philosophy

How to write a philosophy paper.  Some tips from the University of Cambridge for writing papers for a philosophy class that will work well in other classes as well.

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Punishment and belief in free will

The surprising link between homicide rates and belief in free will.  Do we punish criminals because we believe they freely chose to commit the crimes and so deserve punishment? Or do we believe criminals acted freely because we desire to punish them? A reason to think we believe in free will because we desire to punish: “more crime-ridden places … also tend to believe more strongly in free will, presumably out of a desire to see criminals punished.”

Fight your fate

Does neuroscience disprove free will?   Julian Baggini’s very nice review of four books about free will, responsibility, and neuroscience. “But perhaps the greatest mystery of free will is how it can be that on both major axes of the debate – whether it exists and whether it matters if it does – intelligent, informed opinion can be found at both ends. That might be a clue that this is a question without a definitive, factual answer.” And that could mean we are asking the wrong questions about free will. “… [E]ven if you want to insist that we don’t have free will, we still have recognisable, if subtly altered, forms of many of the cherished notions we assume depend on it, like love, responsibility and morality. … That’s what matters, and if you don’t want to call it free will, feel free to call it what you will.”

Does it matter if your professor grades your paper when tired or hungry?

What if your professor suffers from decision fatigue? What if you do?   Nice review by John Tierney of psychology studies on decision-making and self-control.  “Decision fatigue is the newest discovery involving a phenomenon called ego depletion, a term coined by [FSU psychology professor] Roy F. Baumeister in homage to a Freudian hypothesis. Freud speculated that the self, or ego, depended on mental activities involving the transfer of energy.  … Freud’s energy model of the self was generally ignored until the end of the century, when Baumeister began studying mental discipline in a series of experiments, first at Case Western and then at Florida State University. These experiments demonstrated that there is a finite store of mental energy for exerting self-control. … Willpower turned out to be more than a folk concept or a metaphor. It really was a form of mental energy that could be exhausted.”  More here.

Do you have free will? You’d better believe it

Do you have free will? It’s the only choice.  Nice review by John Tierney of ideas about free will.

How do philosophers’ and scientists’ theories about free will line up with what people actually think about it? “Intellectual concepts of free will can vary enormously, but there seems to be a fairly universal gut belief in the concept starting at a young age.  … Whatever their cultural differences, people tend to reject the notion that they live in a deterministic world without free will.”

Does it make any practical difference whether you believe you have free will?  We “pragmatically intuit that regardless of whether free will exists, our society depends on everyone’s believing it does. The benefits of this belief have been demonstrated in other research showing that when people doubt free will, they do worse at their jobs and are less honest.”