Vox Tablet

What’s Free Will Got To Do With It?

Especially in election season, we love talking about the moral fiber (or lack thereof) of our candidates. But when it comes to ethics, no man—or woman—is an island.

March 30, 2016


Election season means lots of talk about what direction the country is heading in and about the character of those who aspire to lead it. Personal insults are flying—losers, liars, possessors of weak moral fiber. Underneath the rhetoric and mud-slinging lie deeply held beliefs about the connection between ethics, free will, and the autonomy of the self.

Yet increasingly, sociologists, psychologists, and neuroscientists are asserting that this independent self that we are so attached to doesn’t exist. Moreover, there are philosophical traditions we can draw on, from Aristotle to Maimonides to Spinoza, that may offer more useful ways to think about how to foster ethical behavior and moral societies.

Professor Heidi Ravven, the author of The Self Beyond Itself, joined Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry a few years ago to discuss this alternative view of the self; in light of the election season, the conversation now has particular salience, and so we present it anew, from the archive.

Vox Tablet is Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, hosted by Sara Ivry and produced by Julie Subrin. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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