POL S 302 A: Free Will, Nature, and Nurture in Politics and Society

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
MOR 234
Mark Smith
Mark Alan Smith

Syllabus Description:

January 8  Free will, nature, and nurture in political science and other disciplines. (slides)


January 10  Free will in Western philosophy. (slides) (recording)


Closer to Truth, The Big Questions in Free Will (questions) (video); 

Robert Sapolsky, The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (questions) (video); 

Paul Bloom, The War on Reason (questions) (text);

Julian Baggini, Do We Have Free Will? (questions) (audio or video)


January 15  Free will and moral responsibility. (slides) (recording)


Adrian Raine, Predicting Anti-Social Behavior (questions) (video);

Paul Bloom, Natural Born Killers (questions) (text);

Michael Shermer, Free Will and Moral Responsibility in a Secular Society (questions) (video)

Stephen Cave, There’s No Such Thing As Free Will (questions) (text) 


January 17  Free will in political science:  structure and agency. (slides) (recording)


Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel (questions) (audio);

Daron Acemoğlu, Why Nations Fail (questions) (audio or video);

Raj Chatty, Improving Equality of Opportunity, ending at 51:10 (questions) (video)


January 22  Nature and evolutionary psychology (slides) (recording for all but the last 20 minutes, when my battery died)


David Buss, Why Students Love Evolutionary Psychology . . . And How to Teach It (questions) (video);

Steven Pinker, Human Nature and the Blank Slate (questions) (video);

Frans de Waal, Moral Behavior in Animals (questions) (video);

Martie Haselton, interviewed by Gad Saad (questions) (audio) or (video)


January 24  Nurture and cultural anthropology. (slides) (recording)


Richard Nisbett, interviewed by Hunter Maats on Mixed Mental Arts (questions) (audio);

Tamler Sommers, Why Honor Matters, interviewed by Jeffrey Church on The Political Theory Review (questions) (audio);

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Honor and Moral Revolutions, interviewed by Sarah-Jane Leslie (questions) (video);

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Honor and Social Change (questions are combined with the video above) (audio);

Pew Research Center, What’s Morally Acceptable (questions) (text)


January 29  Nature and nurture:  reconciling evolutionary psychology and cultural anthropology, part I. (slides) (recording)


Paul Bloom, The Origins of Morality (questions) (video);

Shankar Vedantum/Hidden Brain, Olympic Victory and Defeat (questions) (audio);

Susan Clancy, Abducted:  How People Come to Believe They Were Abducted by Aliens (questions) (audio) or (video);

William Julius Wilson, The Other America:  Then and Now (questions) (audio) or (video) watch the first 54:50


January 31  Nature and nurture:  reconciling evolutionary psychology and cultural anthropology, part II. (slides) (recording)


Shankar Vedantum/Hidden Brain, When Did Marriage Become So Hard? (questions) (audio);

The Economist, The Perils of Polygamy (questions) (text);

Tage Rai, How Could They? People Resort to Violence Because their Moral Codes Demand It (questions) (text);

Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature (questions) (video)


February 5  Conscious control of thoughts and actions. 


Rachel Kleinfeld, A Savage Order, interviewed by Michael Shermer (questions) (audio)


February 7  First exam.


February 12  Nature and nurture in behavioral genetics, part I.  (slides) (recording)


Robert Plomin et al., The Top 10 Replicated Findings from Behavioral Genetics, read from p. 1 up to the section ending on p. 7; read from the section beginning on p. 12 through the section ending on p. 13 (skip the rest of the article) (questions) (text);

Robert Plomin, Behavioral Genetics, Twins and Adoptees, interviewed by Ricardo Lopes (questions) (audio) or (video);

Nancy Segal, Twin Misconceptions, interviewed by Michael Shermer (questions) (audio) or (video);

Alison Gopnik, The Gardener and the Carpenter (questions) (video)


February 14  Social capital and social connections.  Nature and nurture in behavioral genetics, part II. (slides) (recording)


Robert Putnam, Community Engagement in a Changing America (questions) (video);

The Economist, The Youth of Today (questions) (text);

Jean Twenge, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? (questions) (text);

Johann Hari, Is Modern Society Making Us Depressed?, interviewed by Ezra Klein (questions) (audio)


February 19  Free will, nature, and nurture case studies:  political attitudes and behaviors, part I (slides) (recording)


Hannah Holmes, Red Brain, Blue Brain (questions) (video);

Glenn Wilson, The Psychology of Politics (questions) (video);

Rose McDermott, The Genetics of Politics (questions) (video);

John Hibbing, Predisposed (questions) (video)


February 21 Free will, nature, and nurture case studies:  political attitudes and behaviors, part II. (slides) (recording)


Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, Introduction and chapters 1-4 (questions)


February 26  Free will, nature, and nurture case studies:  sexual orientation. (slides) (recording)


Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers, chapters 6, 8-9, and Epilogue (questions)


February 28 Free will, willpower, and the course of people’s lives. (slides) (recording)


Roy Baumeister, Do You Really Have Free Will? (questions) (text);

Angela Duckworth, Grit:  The Power of Passion and Perseverance (questions) (video);

Robert Sapolsky, The Toxic Intersection of Poverty and Stress, interviewed by Ezra Klein (questions) (audio);

Rick Nevin, The Long-Term Effects of Lead on Crime, interviewed by Julia Galef on Rationally Speaking (questions) (audio)


March 5  Free will, nature, and nurture case studies:  religion. (slides) (recording)


Justin Barrett, The Naturalness of Religion, interviewed by Tony Gill on Research on Religion (questions) (audio);

Ara Norenzayan, The Origins of Prosocial Religions and the Emergence of Large-Scale Cooperation and Conflict (questions) (video--watch only the first 50:25);

Azim Shariff, Psychological and Social Consequences of Religions (Dis)belief (questions) (video);

Robert Wright, The Evolution of God (questions) (audio)


March 7  Free will, nature, and nurture case studies:  group identity and politics. (slides) (recording)


Mark Alan Smith, The Group-Centered Bible and its God (questions) (text)


March 12  Free will, nature, and nurture case studies:  sex and gender. (slides) (recording)


The Economist, Found in Transition (questions) (text);

Elizabeth Suhay, The Political Science of Genetic Explanations, interviewed by Justin Murphy on Other Life (questions) (audio)


March 14  Second exam, which covers only material since the first exam.


March 20  Paper due by 4:00 PM.  You will submit a hard copy to the main political science office (Gowen 101) and upload an electronic copy to the course’s Canvas site. 

Catalog Description: 
Examines beliefs and actions in politics and other domains from the standpoint of free will, nature, and nurture. Compares political science to other disciplines in explaining why people think and act as they do.
Department Requirements: 
Political Theory Field
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:08pm