George Saunders’ “Escape from Spiderhead” is a dystopian short story that portrays a controlled pharmacological environment in which scientists experimentally manipulate the desires and emotions of human subjects. Students are confronted with the question whether the chemical cocktails produced by our brains grant greater freedom than Spiderhead. Sanders’ riveting story is thought-provoking and challenges students to probe the topic of free will and determinism.
See PDF Attached to this Tool & have your students read it beforehand.
- How does the story reinforce your preferred position on free will? How can the story challenge your preferred position on free will? Explain.
Brief Definition of Positions on Free Will:
- Hard Determinism – People’s actions are causally necessitated and their actions are therefore unfree.
- Compatiblism – Although all actions are caused, people act with free will and are morally responsible whenever they are not constrained or forced to perform the action.
- Deep Compatiblism – People are free only if only if they act on desires they truly want to act on (i.e., desires that move people are genuinely “their own”).
- Libertarianism – People’s actions are not causally necessitated. People have special powers to cause their actions and are morally responsible for their choices.