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Freshman Seminar 87:

Philosophy Through Science Fiction


Twelve Monkeys (1995)


One can sometimes express a philosophical problem in an especially vivid or compelling manner through science fiction.  In this seminar we will learn about skepticism, personal identity, free will and time through works of science fiction.  For each meeting we will read a work of fiction and a relevant philosophical article.


Instructor: Professor Craig Callender

Rm HSS 8077, 822-4911,


Office hours: Tues 2:15-3:15 and by appt


Place/Time:  HSS 7077, Tues  Oct 4, 11, 18, 25


Schedule and Reading


1. Make sure you have watched the film, The Matrix.  Then read the two short little introductory pieces by Grau and the longer piece by Pryor.  All three are free on the web:


"What's So Bad about Life in the Matrix?" James Pryor


Christopher Grau "The Value of Reality: Cypher and the Experience Machine"


Christopher Grau "Brains in Vats and the Evil Demon"



2.        "The Hundred Thousand Light Year Diary" in Axiomatic by Greg Egan


"Free Will" by Galen Strawson



3.        "Learning to be Me" in Axiomatic by Greg Egan


           "Where Am I?" by Daniel Dennett, at



4.         "All You Zombies" by Robert Heinlein, which can be found at


Introducing Time by Craig Callender, pp. 68-108


If you're confused by the story's timeline, you're not alone.  Perhaps the following timeline will help:  Or perhaps not.  If you have further interest in this topic, check out "The Paradoxes of Time Travel" David Lewis, in American Philosophical Quarterly 1976, 13:145-52 for the philosophy side of things.  For the foundations of physics side of things, check out Arntzenius and Maudlin's





The grade (P) will be determined by your successful participation (including, obviously, attendance) in the meetings.  A necessary condition of successfully participating is having read the relevant works beforehand.  You are expected to attend all 4 meetings.