Self-Determination and the Brain

Gregorianum 89 (4):816-831 (2008)
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The main topic of this paper will not be the notoriously difficult metaphysical question of freedom and determinism. An act of will is either determined by a causal chain of previous events or is a mere chance event. In either case there seems to be no room for freedom. This question is of such a high level of conceptual generality that it applies not only to human freedom but to any being that acts for reasons, even beings that lack a brain. In this paper I try to answer the question whether freedom is possible for beings endowed with a brain. Can a being whose mental life involves a functioning brain determine its own actions? I will proceed in two steps. First, I will discuss a recent experiment that seems to prove empirically that freedom of the will is an illusion. I will argue that this kind of research is methodologically misguided. Then I will go on to discuss some of the metaphysical issues that must be dealt with if one wants to address the question whether freedom of the will is possible for a being endowed with a brain. And then I will ask if such a metaphysics is compatible with our best empirical theories.
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