Libet's impossible demand

Journal of Consciousness Studies 12 (12):67-76 (2005)
Neil Levy
Oxford University
Abstract : Libet’s famous experiments, showing that apparently we become aware of our intention to act only after we have unconsciously formed it, have widely been taken to show that there is no such thing as free will. If we are not conscious of the formation of our intentions, many people think, we do not exercise the right kind of control over them. I argue that the claim this view presupposes, that only consciously initiated actions could be free, places a condition upon freedom of action which it is in principle impossible to fulfil, for reasons that are conceptual and not merely contingent. Exercising this kind of control would require that we control our control system, which would simply cause the same problem to arise at a higher-level or initiate an infinite regress of controllings. If the unconscious initiation of actions, as well as the takings of decisions, is incompatible with control over them, then free will is impossible on conceptual grounds. Thus, Libet’s experiments do not constitute a separate, empirical, challenge to our freedom
Keywords Action  Contingency  Experiment  Free Will  Intention  Science  Libet, Benjamin
Categories (categorize this paper)
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 35,976
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Are Intentions in Tension with Timing Experiments?Marcela Herdova - 2016 - Philosophical Studies 173 (3):573-587.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles


Added to PP index

Total downloads
83 ( #78,810 of 2,293,920 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
11 ( #44,367 of 2,293,920 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Monthly downloads

My notes

Sign in to use this feature