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Summary Behavioural genetics is the science of the role of genes in behaviour. Some philosophers and scientists suspect that insofar as behavior is under genetic influence, free will is constrained or eliminated. To a large extent, debates over free will and genetics mirror debates over the extent to which background conditions (which might be the product of socialization or of situational features) constrain or limit free will. There mere fact that such conditions exist is almost universally seen as unthreatening: debate focuses rather on whether some particular conditions are especially constraining insofar as they threaten the capacities for reacting and responding to reasons.
Key works The literature on genetics and free will is very small. Particia Greenspan's work on this topic is the most important landmark in this field. See Greenspan 1993Greenspan 2001Greenspan manuscript.
Introductions There are no introductory articles specifically on this topic. Mele 2011 provides orientation to closely related debates.
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  1. Patricia S. Greenspan, Free Will and Genetic Determinism: Locating the Problem(S).
    I was led to this clarificatory job initially by some puzzlement from a philosopher's standpoint about just why free will questions should come up particularly in connection with the genome project, as opposed to the many other scientific research programs that presuppose determinism. The philosophic concept of determinism involves explanation of all events, including human action, by prior causal factors--so that whether or not human behavior has a genetic basis, it ultimately gets traced back to _something_ true of the world (...)
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  2. Patricia S. Greenspan (2001). Genes, Electrotransmitters, and Free Will. In Patricia S. Greenspan, David Wasserman & Robert Wachbroit (eds.), Genetics and Criminal Behavior: Methods, Meanings, and Morals. Cambridge University Press.
    There seems to be evidence of a genetic component in criminal behavior. It is widely agreed not to be "deterministic"--by which discussions outside philosophy seem to mean that by itself it is not sufficient to determine behavior. Environmental factors make a decisive difference--for that matter, there are nongenetic biological factors--in whether and how genetic.
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  3. Patricia S. Greenspan (1993). Free Will and the Genome Project. Philosophy and Public Affairs 22 (1):31-43.
    Popular and scientific accounts of the U.S. Human Genome Project often express concern about the implications of the project for the philosophic question of free will and responsibility. However, on its standard construal within philosophy, the question of free will versus determinism poses no special problems in relation to genetic research. The paper identifies a variant version of the free will question, free will versus internal constraint, that might well pose a threat to notions of individual autonomy and virtue in (...)
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  4. Patricia S. Greenspan, David Wasserman & Robert Wachbroit (eds.) (forthcoming). Genetics and Criminal Behavior: Methods, Meanings, and Morals. Cambridge University Press.
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  5. Peter Lipton (2004). Genetic and Generic Determinism: A New Threat to Free Will? In D. Rees & Steven P. R. Rose (eds.), The New Brain Sciences: Perils and Prospects. Cambridge University Press. 88.
    We are discovering more and more about the human genotypes and about the connections between genotype and behaviour. Do these advances in genetic information threaten our free will? This paper offers a philosopher’s perspective on the question.
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  6. Garry Young (2007). Igniting the Flicker of Freedom: Revisiting the Frankfurt Scenario. Philosophia 35 (2):171-180.
    This paper aims to challenge the view that the sign present in many Frankfurt-style scenarios is insufficiently robust to constitute evidence for the possibility of an alternate decision, and therefore inadequate as a means of determining moral responsibility. I have amended Frankfurt’s original scenario, so as to allow Jones, as well as Black, the opportunity to monitor his (Jones’s) own inclination towards a particular decision (the sign). Different outcome possibilities are presented, to the effect that Jones’s awareness of his own (...)
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