Mental Causation and Free Will after Libet and Soon: Reclaiming Conscious Agency

In Alexander Batthyany & Avshalom Elitzur (eds.), Irreducibly Conscious. Selected Papers on Consciousness. Winter (2009)
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There are numerous theoretical reasons which are usually said to undermine the case for mental causation. But in recent years, Libet‘s experiment on readiness potentials (Libet, Wright, and Gleason 1982; Libet, Gleason, Wright, and Pearl 1983), and a more recent replication by a research team led by John Dylan Haynes (Soon, C.S., Brass, M., Heinze, H.J., and Haynes, J.-D. [2008]) are often singled out because they appear to demonstrate empirically that consciousness is not causally involved in our choices and actions. In this paper, an alternative interpretation of these studies is offered; one which is in accordance both with the empirical evidence and also with the phenomenology of the will, demonstrating that the two opposing views of agency – both the ones that deny the reality of free will and the ones that affirm it – are equally compatible with the outcomes of these two experiments. On this basis, it is shown that the claim that the results on the timing of readiness potential tip the scales in favour of one or the other view cannot be justified - neither from a neurological, nor from a philosophical perspective.

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Alexander Batthyany
University of Vienna


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