Free Will & Empirical Arguments for Epiphenomenalism

In Peter Róna & László Zsolnai (eds.), Agency and Causal Explanation in Economics. Virtues and Economics, vol 5. Springer. pp. 3-20 (2019)
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While philosophers have worried about mental causation for centuries, worries about the causal relevance of conscious phenomena are also increasingly featuring in neuroscientific literature. Neuroscientists have regarded the threat of epiphenomenalism as interesting primarily because they have supposed that it entails free will scepticism. However, the steps that get us from a premise about the causal irrelevance of conscious phenomena to a conclusion about free will are not entirely clear. In fact, if we examine popular philosophical accounts of free will, we find, for the most part, nothing to suggest that free will is inconsistent with the presence of unconscious neural precursors to choices. It is only if we adopt highly non-naturalistic assumptions about the mind (e.g. if we embrace Cartesian dualism and locate free choice in the non-physical realm) that it seems plausible to suppose that the neuroscientific data generates a threat to free will.

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Nadine Elzein
University of Warwick


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