My brain made me do it: The exclusion argument against free will, and what’s wrong with it

In H. Beebee, C. Hitchcock & H. Price (eds.), Making a Difference: Essays on the Philosophy of Causation. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2017)
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We offer a critical assessment of the “exclusion argument” against free will, which may be summarized by the slogan: “My brain made me do it, therefore I couldn't have been free”. While the exclusion argument has received much attention in debates about mental causation (“could my mental states ever cause my actions?”), it is seldom discussed in relation to free will. However, the argument informally underlies many neuroscientific discussions of free will, especially the claim that advances in neuroscience seriously challenge our belief in free will. We introduce two distinct versions of the argument, discuss several unsuccessful responses to it, and then present our preferred response. This involves showing that a key premise – the “exclusion principle” – is false under what we take to be the most natural account of causation in the context of agency: the difference-making account. We finally revisit the debate about neuroscience and free will.

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Christian List
Ludwig Maximilians Universität, München


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