Intuitions about Free Will and the Failure to Comprehend Determinism

Erkenntnis (forthcoming)
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Free will theorists often claim that their views connect with everyday thinking about free will. However, the empirical evidence thus far about folk intuitions has been mixed—some providing support for incompatibilism as the commonsense view and some providing support for compatibilism. Thus, each side to the debate has recently made several attempts to explain away the evidence for the other side. These efforts are predicated on the idea that people might misunderstand determinism in any of several ways. In this paper, we discuss our own attempts to shed further light on this comprehension problem. We first survey some of the key findings from the literature on folk intuitions about free will. Then, we present the alarming results of two new studies. Of the 378 people who participated in our studies—which used two classic deterministic scenarios from the literature—fewer than 10% passed two basic comprehension checks. Our findings suggest that misunderstanding is rampant when it comes to the nature and implications of determinism—which in turn casts doubt on the existing evidence concerning commonsense thinking about free will.
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Archival date: 2021-09-10
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