The debate between compatibilists and incompatibilists depends in large part on what ordinary people mean by ‘free will’, a matter on which previous experimental philosophy studies have yielded conflicting results. In Nahmias, Morris, Nadelhoffer, and Turner (2005, 2006), most participants judged that agents in deterministic scenarios could have free will and be morally responsible. Nichols and Knobe (2007), though, suggest that these apparent compatibilist responses are performance errors produced by using concrete scenarios, and that their abstract scenarios reveal the folk (...) theory of free will for what it actually is—incompatibilist. Here, we argue that the results of two new studies suggest just the opposite. Most participants only give apparent incompatibilist judgments when they mistakenly interpret determinism to imply that agents’ mental states are bypassed in the causal chains that lead to their behavior. Determinism does not entail bypassing, so these responses do not reflect genuine incompatibilist intuitions. When participants understand what determinism does mean, the vast majority take it to be compatible with free will. Further results indicate that most people’s concepts of choice and the ability to do otherwise do not commit them to incompatibilism, either, putting pressure on incompatibilist arguments that rely on transfer principles, such as the Consequence Argument. We discuss the implications of these findings for philosophical debates about free will, and suggest that incompatibilism appears to be either false, or else a thesis about something other than what most people mean by ‘free will’. (shrink)
In this chapter I consider various potential challenges to free will from the modern mind sciences. After motivating the importance of considering these challenges, I outline the argument structure for such challenges: they require simultaneously establishing a particular condition for free will and an empirical challenge to that condition. I consider several potential challenges: determinism, naturalism, and epiphenomenalism, and explain why none of these philosophical challenges is bolstered by new discoveries from neuroscience and psychology. I then respond to relevant empirical (...) challenges to the role of consciousness and rationality in action. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
We argue, contra Joshua Knobe in a companion chapter, that most people have an understanding of free will and responsible agency that is compatible with a naturalistic vision of the human mind. Our argument is supported by results from a new experimental philosophy study showing that most people think free will is consistent with complete and perfect prediction of decisions and actions based on prior activity in the brain (a scenario adapted from Sam Harris who predicts most people will find (...) it inconsistent with free will). We explain why most people are "theory-lite" about the nature of mind and free will--they are not committed to substantive theories of the underlying causal structure of mind, such as Knobe's "transcendence vision". Rather, we suggest a "causal competition principle"--that an agent's actions will be deemed unfree when they are perceived to be fully caused by factors that do not include her reasons. This principle explains why people, including some scientists, perceive neuroscientific explanations as threatening free will when they are described in terms of neural processes fully causing actions to the exclusion of agents' reasons or reasoning processes. (shrink)
La philosophie expérimentale est un mouvement récent qui tente de faire progresser certains débats philosophiques grâce à l'utilisation de méthodes expérimentales. À la différence de la philosophie conventionnelle qui privilégie l'analyse conceptuelle ou la spéculation, la philosophie expérimentale préconise le recours aux études empiriques pour mieux comprendre les concepts philosophiques. Apparue il y a une dizaine d'années dans les pays anglo-saxons, cette approche constitue actuellement l'une des branches les plus dynamiques de la philosophie contemporaine. -/- L'objectif de cet ouvrage est (...) d'offrir un contact direct avec les travaux les plus connus et les plus discutés des philosophes expérimentaux. Il regroupe ainsi dix textes représentatifs de ce domaine jeune, mais déjà florissant, et couvre une large partie du champ philosophique contemporain (philosophie du langage, théorie de la connaissance, conscience, théorie de l'action, éthique et philosophie des sciences). (shrink)
It is often called “the problem of free will and determinism,” as if the only thing that might challenge free will is determinism and as if determinism is obviously a problem. The traditional debates about free will have proceeded accordingly. Typically, incompatibilists about free will and determinism suggest that their position is intuitive or commonsensical, such that compatibilists have the burden of showing how, despite appearances, the problem of determinism is not really a problem. Compatibilists, in turn, tend to proceed (...) as if showing that determinism is not a problem thereby shows that we have free will, as if determinism is the only thing that might threaten free will. In this chapter, I reject both of these elements of the traditional debate; the question of whether we have free will should neither begin nor end with the so-called problem of determinism. I present and discuss evidence from a variety of studies that suggests that incompatibilism is not particularly intuitive. Most people do not have to be talked out of incompatibilism but rather talked into it. This provides some reasons—though certainly not decisive reasons—to think that compatibilism is true. I conclude by pointing out that, even if compatibilism were true, it would not dissolve the problem of free will, because there are problems other than determinism that need to be confronted—namely, challenges to free will suggested by current and “future science,” including neuroscience and psychology. The threats to free will suggested by these sciences are distinct from the traditional threat of determinism, and they are the ones that “ordinary persons” find intuitively threatening to free will. In fact, I will argue that the reason incompatibilism about free will and determinism appears to be intuitive is that determinism is often and easily misunderstood to involve these distinct threats to free will—threats that suggest that our rational, conscious mental activity is bypassed in the process of our making decisions and coming to act. (shrink)
Drawing on results discussed in the target article by Baumeister et al. (1), I argue that the claim that the modern mind sciences are discovering that free will is an illusion ( willusionism ) is ambiguous and depends on how ordinary people understand free will. When interpreted in ways that the evidence does not justify, the willusionist claim can lead to ‘bad results.’ That is, telling people that free will is an illusion leads people to cheat more, help less, and (...) behave more aggressively, but these responses may be based on people’s interpreting willusionist claims to mean that they lack the powers of rational choice and self-control. (shrink)
Moral Psychology: Historical and Contemporary Readings is the first book to bring together the most significant contemporary and historical works on the topic from both philosophy and psychology. Provides a comprehensive introduction to moral psychology, which is the study of psychological mechanisms and processes underlying ethics and morality Unique in bringing together contemporary texts by philosophers, psychologists and other cognitive scientists with foundational works from both philosophy and psychology Approaches moral psychology from an empirically informed perspective Explores a wide range (...) of topics from passion and altruism to virtue and responsibility Editorial introductions to each section explain the background of and connections between the selections. (shrink)
We discuss recent work in experimental philosophy on free will and moral responsibility and then present a new study. Our results suggest an error theory for incompatibilist intuitions. Most laypersons who take determinism to preclude free will and moral responsibility apparently do so because they mistakenly interpret determinism to involve fatalism or “bypassing” of agents’ relevant mental states. People who do not misunderstand determinism in this way tend to see it as compatible with free will and responsibility. We discuss why (...) these results pose a challenge to incompatibilists. (shrink)
In this paper, we examine Adam Feltz and Edward Cokely’s recent claim that “the personality trait extraversion predicts people’s intuitions about the relationship of determinism to free will and moral responsibility”. We will first present some criticisms of their work before briefly examining the results of a recent study of our own. We argue that while Feltz and Cokely have their finger on the pulse of an interesting and important issue, they have not established a robust and stable connection between (...) extraversion and compatibilist-friendly intuitions. (shrink)
First, we briefly familiarize the reader with the nascent field of "experimental philosophy," in which philosophers use empirical methods, rather than armchair speculation, to ascertain laypersons' intuitions about philosophical issues. Second, we discuss how the surveys used by experimental philosophers can serve as valuable pedagogical tools for teaching philosophy-independently of whether one believes surveying laypersons is an illuminating approach to doing philosophy. Giving students surveys that contain questions and thought experiments from philosophical debates gets them to actively engage with the (...) material and paves the way for more fruitful and impassioned classroom discussion. We offer some suggestions for how to use surveys in the classroom and provide an appendix that contains some examples of scenarios teachers could use in their courses. (shrink)
First, we briefly familiarize the reader with the emerging field of “experimental philosophy,” in which philosophers use empirical methods, rather than armchair speculation, to ascertain laypersons’ intuitions about philosophical issues. Second, we discuss how the surveys used by experimental philosophers can serve as valuable pedagogical tools for teaching philosophy—independently of whether one believes surveying laypersons is an illuminating approach to doing philosophy. Giving students surveys that contain questions and thought experiments from philosophical debates gets them to actively engage with the (...) material and paves the way for more fruitful and impassioned classroom discussion. We offer some suggestions for how to use surveys in the classroom and provide an appendix that contains some examples of scenarios teachers could use in their courses. (shrink)
Experimental philosophy is the name for a recent movement whose participants use the methods of experimental psychology to probe the way people think about philosophical issues and then examine how the results of such studies bear on traditional philosophical debates. Given both the breadth of the research being carried out by experimental philosophers and the controversial nature of some of their central methodological assumptions, it is of no surprise that their work has recently come under attack. In this paper we (...) respond to some criticisms of experimental philosophy that have recently been put forward by Antti Kauppinen. Unlike the critics of experimental philosophy, we do not think the fledgling movement either will or should fall before it has even had a chance to rise up to explain what it is, what it seeks to do (and not to do), and exactly how it plans to do it. Filling in some of the salient details is the main goal of the present paper. (shrink)
In this paper we discuss studies that show that most people do not find determinism to be incompatible with free will and moral responsibility if determinism is described in a way that does not suggest mechanistic reductionism. However, if determinism is described in a way that suggests reductionism, that leads people to interpret it as threatening to free will and responsibility. We discuss the implications of these results for the philosophical debates about free will, moral responsibility, and determinism.
Two intuitions lie at the heart of our conception of free will. One intuition locates free will in our ability to deliberate effectively and control our actions accordingly: the ‘Deliberation and Control’ (DC) condition. The other intuition is that free will requires the existence of alternative possibilities for choice: the AP condition. These intuitions seem to conflict when, for instance, we deliberate well to decide what to do, and we do not want it to be possible to act in some (...) other way. I suggest that intuitions about the AP condition arise when we face ‘close calls,’ situations in which, after deliberating, we still do not know what we really want to do. Indeed, several incompatibilists suggest such close calls are necessary for free will. I challenge this suggestion by describing a ‘confident agent’ who, after deliberating, always feels confident about what to do (and can then control her actions accordingly). Because she maximally satisfies the DC condition, she does not face close calls, and the intuition that the AP condition is essential for free will does not seem to apply to her. I conclude that intuitions about the importance of the AP condition rest on our experiences of close calls and arise precisely to the extent that our deliberations fail to arrive at a clear decision. I then raise and respond to several objections to this thought experiment and its relevance to the free will debate. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
Incompatibilists believe free will is impossible if determinism is true, and they often claim that this view is supported by ordinary intuitions. We challenge the claim that incompatibilism is intuitive to most laypersons and discuss the significance of this challenge to the free will debate. After explaining why incompatibilists should want their view to accord with pretheoretical intuitions, we suggest that determining whether incompatibilism is in fact intuitive calls for empirical testing. We then present the results of our studies, which (...) put significant pressure on the claim that incompatibilism is intuitive. Finally, we consider and respond to several potential objections to our approach. (shrink)
Experimental examination of how the folk conceptualize certain philosophically loaded notions can provide information useful for philosophical theorizing. In this paper, we explore issues raised in Shaun Nichols' (2004) studies involving people's conception of free will, focusing on his claim that this conception fits best with the philosophical theory of agent-causation. We argue that his data do not support this conclusion, highlighting along the way certain considerations that ought to be taken into account when probing the folk conception of free (...) will. (shrink)
Daniel Wegner argues that conscious will is an illusion. I examine the adequacy of his theory of apparent mental causation and whether, if accurate, it suggests that our experience of agency and authorship should be considered illusory. I examine various interpretations of this claim and raise problems for each interpretation. I also distinguish between the experiences of agency and authorship.
This paper offers a number of tips for teaching small philosophy classes (under twenty-five students). Some of these include using a horseshoe seating arrangement, replacing hand-raising with name cards, engaging in “real” Socratic dialogues, having students create a philosophical “Question of the Day”, and assigning students “Critical Response” papers.
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. (shrink)
Philosophers often suggest that their theories of free will are supported by our phenomenology. Just as their theories conflict, their descriptions of the phenomenology of free will often conflict as well. We suggest that this should motivate an effort to study the phenomenology of free will in a more systematic way that goes beyond merely the introspective reports of the philosophers themselves. After presenting three disputes about the phenomenology of free will, we survey the (limited) psychological research on the experiences (...) relevant to the philosophical debates and then describe some pilot studies of our own with the aim of encouraging further research. The data seem to support compatibilist descriptions of the phenomenology more than libertarian descriptions. We conclude that the burden is on libertarians to find empirical support for their more demanding metaphysical theories with their more controversial phenomenological claims. (shrink)
Doctors must now take a fifth vital sign from their patients: pain reports. I use this as a case study to discuss how different schools of psychology (introspectionism, behaviorism, cognitive psychology) have treated verbal reports about the contents of consciousness. After examining these differences, I suggest that, with new methods of mapping data about neurobiological states with behavioral data and with verbal reports about conscious experience, we should reconsider some of the introspectionists' goals and methods. I discuss examples from cognitive (...) psychology, including pain researchers' attempts to develop self-reports of pain so that they can be, like other vital signs, reliable indicators of internal states. (shrink)
In The illusion of conscious will , Daniel Wegner offers an exciting, informative, and potentially threatening treatise on the psychology of action. I offer several interpretations of the thesis that conscious will is an illusion. The one Wegner seems to suggest is "modular epiphenomenalism": conscious experience of will is produced by a brain system distinct from the system that produces action; it interprets our behavior but does not, as it seems to us, cause it. I argue that the evidence Wegner (...) presents to support this theory, though fascinating, is inconclusive and, in any case, he has not shown that conscious will does not play a crucial causal role in planning, forming intentions, etc. This theory's potential blow to our self-conception turns out to be a glancing one. (shrink)