Experimental Philosophy and the Problem of Free Will

Science 331 (6023):1401-1403 (2011)

Abstract

Many philosophical problems are rooted in everyday thought, and experimental philosophy uses social scientific techniques to study the psychological underpinnings of such problems. In the case of free will, research suggests that people in a diverse range of cultures reject determinism, but people give conflicting responses on whether determinism would undermine moral responsibility. When presented with abstract questions, people tend to maintain that determinism would undermine responsibility, but when presented with concrete cases of wrongdoing, people tend to say that determinism is consistent with moral responsibility. It remains unclear why people reject determinism and what drives people’s conflicted attitudes about responsibility. Experimental philosophy aims to address these issues and thereby illuminate the philosophical problem of free will.

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