Identity & Free Will Seminar ID1 Fall 2015

ID-1 is a seminar for students in their first term at Pomona College. The goal of the class is to prepare students for college writing. The organization of this section of ID-1 is driven by my belief that the best way to become a good writer is first to become a good reader. We read authors from a variety of fields: philosophy, neuroscience, and law. Despite their different backgrounds, they all focuses on arguments in their writing. This analytical kind of writing is not the only kind you might do in college, but it is by far the most predominant one. We spent our class sessions talking about how the authors try to make their points and how one might construct arguments to dispute their conclusions. Students wrote several analytical essays of their own, did one library research project, and engaged in extensive classroom discussions of exceptional analytical writing.

The specific topics we discussed were personal identity and free will. The problem of personal identity concerns what is required in order to survive through time. The origins of the problem are religious. If material bodies do not go to the afterlife, what does? Is it souls, minds, or something else? But it is not just a religious question. In the movies, people are beamed to other planets. What do we think happens to them? And when memories can be stored on computers will we be able to outlive our bodies? The problem of free will concerns what is required in order to be responsible for what one does. This has become a more pressing issue as neuroscience has gotten better at locating the physical sources of decisions in the brain. Indeed, some scientists claim they have shown that the brain makes decisions before the person is aware of having done so! If they are right, we may have to abandon our legal standards of responsibility and significantly revise our understanding of ourselves.

The syllabus (PDF) has a schedule of topics for discussion, readings, and assignments; it also describes the standards for grades and other policies for the class. Registered students can find all other materials on Sakai.

The class

Class photo

Top row, left to right: Lusajo, Arthur, Nina, Nick
Next: Michael Green, Jacob, Morgan, Mackenzie, Divya, Melissa
First row: Peter, Harry, Jackson, Naila, Nathan, Val

Class photo

Congratulations! See you in four years!

Contact Michael Green

My office is Pearsons 207. For Fall 2015, my office hours are Fridays, 10-11:30.

My email address and office phone number are available from the Pomona College directory: select Faculty/Staff and enter my name.

My home page has links to websites for my other courses.