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Abstract: There are numerous theoretical reasons which are usually said to undermine the case for mental causation. But in recent years, Libet‘s experiment on readiness potentials (Libet, Wright, and Gleason 1982; Libet, Gleason, Wright, and Pearl 1983), and a more recent replication by a research team led by John Dylan Haynes (Soon, C.S., Brass, M., Heinze, H.J., and Haynes, J.-D. ) are often singled out because they appear to demonstrate empirically that consciousness is not causally involved in our choices and actions. In this paper, an alternative interpretation of these studies is offered; one which is in accordance both with the empirical evidence and also with the phenomenology of the will, demonstrating that the two opposing views of agency – both the ones that deny the reality of free will and the ones that affirm it – are equally compatible with the outcomes of these two experiments. On this basis, it is shown that the claim that the results on the timing of readiness potential tip the scales in favour of one or the other view cannot be justified - neither from a neurological, nor from a philosophical perspective.
Abstract: Some recent studies have suggested that belief in determinism tends to undermine moral motivation: subjects who are given determinist texts to read become more likely to cheat or engage in vindictive behaviour. One possible explanation is that people are natural incompatibilists, so that convincing them of determinism undermines their belief that they are morally responsible. I suggest a different explanation, and in doing so try to shed some light on the phenomenology of free will. I contend that one aspect of the phenomenology is our impression that maintaining a resolution requires effort—an impression well supported by a range of psychological data. Determinism can easily be interpreted as showing that such effort will be futile: in effect determinism is conflated with fatalism, in a way that is reminiscent of the Lazy argument used against the Stoics. If this interpretation is right, it explains how belief in determinism undermines moral motivation without needing to attribute sophisticated incompatibilist beliefs to subjects; it works by undermining subjects' self-efficacy. It also provides indirect support for the contention that this is one of the sources of the phenomenology of free will
Abstract: (I) John Searle's conception of consciousness in the 'Mind the Gap' issue of the Journal of Consciousness Studies remains short on content, no advance on either materialism or traditional dualism. Still, it is sufficiently contentful to be self-contradictory. And so his Biological Subjectivity on Two Levels, like materialism and dualism, needs replacing by a radically different conception of consciousness -- such as Consciousness as Existence. (II) From his idea that we can discover 'gaps', seeming absences of causal circumstances, in our experience of deciding and acting, Searle is led to the positing of a self and to mysterious causing. (III) In fact philosophers of determinism and freedom over three centuries have concerned themselves with what are now termed 'gaps'. Searle's advance is a useful terminological one. Compatibilist philosophers of freedom, contrary to what is said, have not missed any point at all. A successor to both Compatibilism and Incompatibilism is needed. (IV) Searle's previous account of deciding and acting in Biological Subjectivity on Two Levels does indeed fail because of its epiphenomenalism. (V) The culmination of his paper, his preferred hypothesis now about deciding and acting, is that down-up causation is true of it but not left-right causation. Quantum Theory as often interpreted doesn't work down-up but does work left-right. The hypothesis is entirely in the tradition of the Incompatibilist and Libertarian philosophers of determinism and freedom, whom Searle has joined, but is factually incredible
Abstract: These three papers are exceptionally rich and varied and I will be selective in responding. My aim is to relate the psychological research they discuss to the broader context of current philosophical debates about free will
Abstract: Nietzsche holds that people lack freedom of the will in any sense that would be sufficient for ascriptions of moral responsibility; that the conscious experience we have of willing is actually epiphenomenal with respect to the actions that follow that experience; and that our actions largely arise through non-conscious processes (psychological and physiological) of which we are only dimly aware, and over which we exercise little or no conscious control. At the same time, Nietzsche, always a master of rhetoric, engages in a “persuasive definition” (Stevenson 1938) of the language of “freedom” and “free will,” to associate the positive valence of these terms with a certain Nietzschean ideal of the person unrelated to traditional notions of free will
Abstract: Compatibilists often think they can afford to be complacent with regard to scientific findings. But there are apparent threats to free will besides determinism. Robert Kane has recently claimed that if consciousness does not initiate action, all accounts of free will go down, compatibilist and incompatibilist. Some cognitive scientists argue that in fact consciousness does not initiate action. In this paper I argue that they are right (though not for the reasons they advance): as a matter of fact consciousness does not initiate action. But, I contend, Kane is wrong in thinking that it follows that we have no free will. I sketch how we might have free will in spite of the finding that consciousness does not initiate action, and remark on the implications for several well-known accounts of responsibility, include Clarke's agent-causal theory and Fischer and Ravizza's reasons-responsiveness account
Abstract: People’s concept of free will is often assumed to be incompatible with the deterministic, scientific model of the universe. Indeed, many scholars treat the folk concept of free will as assuming a special form of nondeterministic causation, possibly the notion of uncaused causes. However, little work to date has directly probed individuals’ beliefs about what it means to have free will. The present studies sought to reconstruct this folk concept of free will by asking people to define the concept (Study 1) and by confronting them with a neuroscientific claim that free will is an illusion (Study 2), which invited them to either reconcile or contrast free will with determinism. The results suggest that the core of people’s concept of free will is a choice that fulfills one’s desires and is free from internal or external constraints. No evidence was found for metaphysical assumptions about dualism or indeterminism.
Abstract: It is a common assumption among both philosophers and psychologists that having accurate beliefs about ourselves and the world around us is always the epistemic gold standard. However, there is gathering data from social psychology that suggest that illusions are quite prevalent in our everyday thinking and that some of these illusions may even be conducive to our overall well being. In this paper, we explore the relevance of these so-called 'positive illusions' to the free will debate. More specifically, we use the literature on positive illusions as a springboard for examining Saul Smilansky's so-called 'free will illusionism'. At the end of the day, we will use data from both social and developmental psychology concerning perceived control to try to show that his view is on shaky empirical footing
Abstract: Philosophers working in the nascent field of ‘experimental philosophy’ have begun using methods borrowed from psychology to collect data about folk intuitions concerning debates ranging from action theory to ethics to epistemology. In this paper we present the results of our attempts to apply this approach to the free will debate, in which philosophers on opposing sides claim that their view best accounts for and accords with folk intuitions. After discussing the motivation for such research, we describe our methodology of surveying people’s prephilosophical judgments about the freedom and responsibility of agents in deterministic scenarios. In two studies, we found that a majority of participants judged that such agents act of their own free will and are morally responsible for their actions. We then discuss the philosophical implications of our results as well as various difficulties inherent in such research
Abstract: But other threats to autonomy are less often discussed, threats that are not metaphysical or political but psychological. These are threats based on putative facts about human psychology that suggest we do not govern our behavior according to principles we have consciously chosen. For instance, if our behavior were governed primarily by unconscious Freudian desires rather than by our reflectively considered desires, we would be much less autonomous than we presume. Or if our behaviors were the result of a history of Skinnerian reinforcement rather than conscious consideration, our actions would be shaped by our environment more than by our principles. Since the influence of Freud and Skinner has waned, we might feel we have escaped such threats to our autonomy from psychology. But, as I will explain below, more recent and viable theories and evidence from social psychology pose significant threats to autonomous agency.
Abstract: My initial work, with collaborators Stephen Morris, Thomas Nadelhoffer, and Jason Turner (2005, 2006), on surveying folk intuitions about free will and moral responsibility was designed primarily to test a common claim in the philosophical debates: that ordinary people see an obvious conflict between determinism and both free will and moral responsibility, and hence, the burden is on compatibilists to motivate their theory in a way that explains away or overcomes this intuitive support for incompatibilism. The evidence, if any, offered by philosophers to support the claim that incompatibilism is intuitive has consisted of reports of their own intuitions or informal polls of their students. We were skeptical about the reliability of such evidence, so we used the methodology--”now associated with the label 'experimental philosophy'--”of conducting formal surveys on non-philosophers. Our participants read a scenario that describes a deterministic universe and were then asked to judge whether agents in those scenarios act of their own free will and are morally responsible for their actions. Using three different scenarios with hundreds of participants, we consistently found that the majority (2/3 to 4/5) responded that agents in deterministic universes do act of their own free will and are morally responsible. That is, we found that most ordinary folk do not seem to find incompatibilism intuitive or obviously correct. Our results have been challenged in various ways, philosophical and methodological. For instance, Shaun Nichols (2004, this volume) and Nichols and Joshua Knobe (unpublished) offer some experimental evidence suggesting that, in certain conditions, most people express incompatibilist and libertarian intuitions. I will respond to this work in the following section. I agree that people express conflicting intuitions about free will (after all, we consistently found a minority of participants expressing incompatibilist
Abstract: Experimental research on folk intuitions concerning free will is still in its infancy. So it is especially helpful to have such an excellent set of commentaries, and I greatly appreciate the work of the commentators in advancing the project. Because of space limitations, I can’t respond to all of the comments. I will focus on just a few issues that emerge from the comments that I think are especially promising for illumination
Abstract: I have argued that the traditional free will debate has focused too much on whether free will is compatible with determinism and not enough on whether free will is compatible with specific causal explanations for our actions, including those offered by empirical psychology. If free will is understood as a set of cognitive and volitional capacities, possessed and exercised to varying degrees, then psychology can inform us about the extent to which humans (as a species and as individuals) possess those capacities and manage to exercise them across various situations. While recent work on the role of consciousness in action has been misinterpreted to suggest its role is illusory, recent work in social psychology presents a more viable challenge to our free will. The extent to which we can act on reasons we would accept or can know why we are doing what we do appears to be much less than we presume. Further work is necessary, of course, and it will need to involve both philosophical analysis and psychological investigation. Questions regarding the nature of human freedom and responsibility clearly require the conceptual resources of philosophy and the empirical resources of psychology.
Abstract: This paper relies on experimental methods to explore the psychological underpinnings of folk intuitions about free will and responsibility. In different conditions, people give conflicting responses about agency and responsibility. In some contexts, people treat agency as indeterminist; in other contexts, they treat agency as determinist. Furthermore, in some contexts people treat responsibility as incompatible with determinism, and in other contexts people treat responsibility as compatible with determinism. The paper considers possible accounts of the psychological mechanisms that underlie these conflicting responses
Abstract: Are people free and morally responsible? Or are their actions determined, i.e. inevitable outcomes of the past conditions and the laws of nature? These seem fairly straightforward questions, but it is important to distinguish 3 different dimensions of the free will debate: a descriptive project, a substantive project, and a prescriptive project. In this chapter, I’ll consider how psychology can contribute to each project in turn. First, I should say a bit more about the projects
Abstract: According to agent-causal accounts of free will, agents have the capacity to cause actions, and for a given action, an agent could have done otherwise. This paper uses existing results and presents experimental evidence to argue that young children deploy a notion of agent-causation. If young children do have such a notion, however, it remains quite unclear how they acquire it. Several possible acquisition stories are canvassed, including the possibility that the notion of agent-causation develops from a prior notion of obligation. Finally, the paper sets out how this work might illuminate the philosophical problem of free will
Abstract: In this paper I examine Daniel M. Wegner's line of argument against the causal efficacy of conscious will, as presented in Wegner's book "The Illusion of Conscious Will" (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002). I argue that most of the evidence adduced in the book can be interpreted in ways that do not threaten the efficacy of conscious will. Also, I argue that Wegner's view of conscious will is not an empirical thesis, and that certain views of consciousness and the self are immune to Wegner's line of argument
Abstract: Adina Roskies has argued that worries that recent developments in the neurosciences challenge our ideas of free will and responsibility are misguided. Her argument focuses on the idea that we are able to act differently than we do. However, according to a dominant view in contemporary philosophy, the ability to do otherwise is irrelevant to our judgments of responsibility and free will. It rather is our ability to act for reasons that is crucial. We argue that this view is most significantly challenged by the recent discoveries. Those discoveries show that it is not as obvious and uncontroversial that we act for reasons as it seems. Hence, we have to rethink our concept of reasons-responsiveness
Abstract: First, unlike a good many philosophical puzzles that absorb the efforts of professional philosophers, the web of problems surrounding free will does not take philosophical training to appreciate. It is a ubiquitously accessible problem discussed at length by novelists, poets, musicians, scientists, religious believers, atheists, and more than a few undergraduates in late- night discussions. At least in the Western philosophical tradition it is also a very old problem: versions of it can be found at least as far back as the Stoics and the Epicureans, and arguably in Aristotle. Taken as a whole, these considerations suggest that at least a significant source of puzzles about free will can be found in aspects of our thinking that are available to us at easily accessible levels of reflection. Second, over the past 30 years or so, the philosophical arsenal of incompatibilists
Abstract: This paper responds to continuing commentary on Velmans (2002a) “How could conscious experiences affect brains,” a target article for a special issue of JCS. I focus on the final question dealt with by the target article: how free will relates to preconscious and conscious mental processing, and I develop the case for preconscious free will. Although “preconscious free will” might appear to be a contradiction in terms, it is consistent with the scientific evidence and provides a parsimonious way to reconcile the commonsense view that voluntary acts are freely chosen with the evidence that conscious wishes and decisions are determined by preconscious processing in the mind/brain. I consider alternative interpretations of how “conscious free will” might operate by Libet and by Mangan and respond to doubts about the extent to which the operations of mind are revealed in consciousness, raised by Claxton and Bouratinos. In reconciling commonsense attributions of freedom and responsibility with the findings of science, preconscious free will can be shown to have practical consequences for adjudications in law
Abstract: Wegner’s analysis of the illusion of conscious will is close to my own account of how conscious experiences relate to brain processes. But our analyses differ somewhat on how conscious will is not an illusion. Wegner argues that once conscious will arises it enters causally into subsequent mental processing. I argue that while his causal story is accurate, it remains a first-person story. Conscious free will is not an illusion in the sense that this first-person story is compatible with and complementary to a third-person account of voluntary processing in the mind/brain