Incompatibilism and "Bypassed" Agency

In Alfred R. Mele (ed.), Surrounding Free Will. Oxford University Press. pp. 95–112 (2014)
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Eddy Nahmias and Dylan Murray have recently argued that when people take agents to lack responsibility in deterministic scenarios, they do so because they take agents’ beliefs, desires and decisions to be bypassed, having no effect on their actions. This might seem like an improbable mistake, but the Bypass Hypothesis is bolstered by intriguing experimental data. Moreover, if the hypothesis is correct, it provides a straightforward error theory for incompatibilist intuitions. This chapter argues that the Bypass Hypothesis, although promising and potentially highly significant, does not provide the best explanation of the data. Results from two new studies strongly suggest that subjects with incompatibilist intuitions do not take determinism to imply that belief, desires, and decisions are bypassed. Together with an independently motivated account of judgments of moral responsibility, the Explanation Hypothesis, they instead suggest, first, that subjects have incompatibilist intuitions because they see agents in deterministic scenarios from an explanatory perspective in which mental states and decisions provide no independent input into what happens, and, second, that this explains why subjects seem to think that these states and decisions are causally bypassed. The results also undermine the suggestion, by David Rose and Shaun Nichols, that subjects make what seems like bypass judgments because they take determinism to exclude he existence of decisions.

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Gunnar Björnsson
Stockholm University


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