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Grant number: AQ-50658-12

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DePaul University (Chicago, IL 60604-2287)
Howard Peter Steeves (Project Director: September 2011 to present)

NEH Enduring Questions Course on "What Is Free Will?"

The development of an undergraduate seminar for twenty-five students on the question, What is free will?

Howard Steeves, a professor of philosophy at DePaul University, develops an honors seminar to investigate the notion of free will, specifically as it relates to the question of time. The project director opens up the notion of free will as an experimental test case, using an example from Thomas Hobbes and Baron D'Holbach's discussion of the laws of motion governing billiard balls on a table. This analogy of the physical laws describing a mechanical universe then is extended to the problem of God's foreknowledge for human freedom, as evidenced in the works of Augustine and Aquinas. Going beyond the political and cultural institutions of the Christian church, the course also examines the malleability of space and time, concepts that were ushered in by the scientific revolution and Einsteinian relativity. As a counterpoint to the Western perspective, students are introduced to Buddhist texts and writings from Sufi mysticism. The preliminary reading list that the project director studies to prepare for the course includes works by Aristotle, Bergson, Heidegger, Hume, Kant, Merleau-Ponty, Jalalu'ddin Rumi, Schopenhauer, and John Searle, as well as other source readings from history, science, religion, literature, and anthropology. The class is taught over a ten-week quarter and the enrollment is capped at twenty-five students, selected from a diverse range of backgrounds. The course is writing intensive and includes a requirement for students to produce a twelve-page research paper. In addition to readings and creative class exercises, the project director has planned a field trip to the Chicago Adler Planetarium.

Project fields:
Philosophy, General

Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants

Education Programs

Total amounts:
$24,991 (approved)
$24,919 (awarded)

Grant period:
9/1/2012 – 2/28/2014