Prisoners of Prophecy : Freedom and Foreknowledge in the Dune Series

William PEDEN*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book Chapters | Papers in Conference ProceedingsBook ChapterResearchpeer-review


In the Dune Series, Frank Herbert explores the idea of prophecy. To be prescient seems to be empowered, but is this true? Can knowing the future trap us? Does knowledge of the future constrict our sense of being free agents? These questions have also been explored by decision theorists and philosophers of action.

Thus, this chapter provides an introduction to these fields aimed at fans of the Dune series. I explain the Prisoner's Dilemma and how foreknowledge can trap people into social conflicts. I discuss Newcomb's Problem, where the predictability of the future creates a paradox about rationality.

Finally, I discuss self-knowledge of our future behaviour. Our knowledge of how we shall behave has increased due to advances in psychology and the social sciences. Should this reduce our subjective sense of freedom? I explain some fascinating ideas by Stuart Hampshire, who argued that this self-knowledge from the human sciences actually accentuates the type of freedom that really matters - the ability to plan and choose in a factually correct way. By knowing more about ourselves, we can avoid committing to impossible plans. Only in the extreme case of absolutely choiceless determinism is it disempowering, and in that case we are not really making decisions anyway. Thus, we should welcome the self-knowledge that the human sciences can provide.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDune and Philosophy : Mind, Monads and Muad’Dib
EditorsWilliam IRWIN, Kevin S. DECKER
PublisherJohn Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781119841418
ISBN (Print)9781119841395
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Prisoners of Prophecy : Freedom and Foreknowledge in the Dune Series'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this