Skip Content

Free to think? Epistemic authority and thinking for oneself

Philosophical Lecture, delivered by Professor Ursula Coope, on 26 June 2018 (venue: The British Academy).

We depend on others for much of what we believe. Does this dependence undermine our ability to determine for ourselves what to think? I discuss two ancient responses to this question. For Cicero, our freedom to think depends upon our having no compelling argument for one view rather than another. By contrast, for Olympiodorus we are free (or ‘self-moved’) insofar as we form beliefs on the basis of a certain kind of compelling argument (a ‘demonstration’). Is freedom, understood in either of these ways, something valuable? Can demonstrative arguments either undermine or preserve our ability to think for ourselves?

Professor Ursula Coope, Professor of Ancient Philosophy at the University of Oxford and a Fellow of Keble College. She is the author of Time for Aristotle (OUP 2005), and is currently writing a book on questions about freedom and responsibility in Neoplatonist thought.

Professor Sarah Broadie FBA, Professor of Moral Philosophy, Wardlaw Professor and Honours Advisor in Philosophy, University of St Andrews.

More about Philosophical Lectures