Free will and experimental philosophy : when an old debate meets a new movement

Consider this scenario: A terrorist just bombed the subway in London, which resulted in the casualties of numerous innocent people. His act can be considered well-planned for he fully knew what consequences his act would bring. If determinism is true, is it possible that the terrorist in question bombed the subway out of free will? An incompatibilist would respond to this question with a resounding “no”. A compatibilist, on the other hand, would answer yes, as long as the terrorist possessed certain psychological characteristics, causal histories, etc. This underlies the basis of disputes between the compatibilists and incompatibilists, who appear to hold opposite views on whether it is possible for someone to act out of free will if determinism is true. However, as I shall discuss in Chapter One, this disagreement is partly a verbal one that stems from the diverse meanings of the term “free will”. This thesis aims to transcend the verbal disagreement and explore where the deeper, more substantial disagreements may lie between compatibilists and incompatibilists. One possible sphere where substantial disagreements between compatibilists and incompatibilists may lie is the content of the ordinary concept of free will, or that of the strongest sense of control condition necessary for securing the ordinary concept of moral responsibility. On this view, the metaphysical question and the conceptual question about free will are inseparable; in order to find out the metaphysical satisfaction conditions of free will, one must first identify the conceptual satisfaction conditions of free will. Further, the latter is reflected in everyday free will/ moral responsibility ascriptions about hypothetical or real scenarios. In Chapter Two, I analyze how the recent experimental philosophy movement bears on this issue. By examining the findings of some current experimental philosophy studies, I argue that neither compatibilism nor incompatibilism can sufficiently capture the ordinary concept of free will or moral responsibility. In the light of my discussions in Chapter Two, I explain in Chapter Three why each of the various traditional accounts of free will cannot independently provide an adequate “package deal” of solutions for the problem of free will. Near the end of the chapter, I propose a pluralistic, agnostic account of free will as an alternative solution. Despite its great instrumental value, experimental philosophy is not widely recognized as a philosophically significant methodology. Hence, Chapter Four is devoted to discussing the actual and potential values of experimental philosophy in the light of its contribution to the free will debate. I conclude that the encounter between the free will debate and the experimental philosophy movement is a fruitful one; the former proves the value of the latter by receiving helpful insights from it
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