A Naturalistic Vision of Free Will

In Elizabeth O'Neill & Edouard Machery (eds.), Current Controversies in Experimental Philosophy. Routledge (2014)
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Abstract

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.

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