The Psychology of Free Will

Abstract

I argue that the traditional free will debate has focused too much on whether free will is compatible with determinism and not enough on whether free will is compatible with specific causal explanations for our actions, including those offered by empirical psychology. If free will is understood as a set of cognitive and volitional capacities, possessed and exercised to varying degrees, then psychology can inform us about the extent to which humans (as a species and as individuals) possess those capacities and manage to exercise them across various situations. While recent work on the role of consciousness in action has been misinterpreted to suggest its role is illusory, recent work in social psychology presents a more viable challenge to our free will. The extent to which we can act on reasons we would accept or can know why we are doing what we do appears to be much less than we presume. Further work is necessary, of course, and it will need to involve both philosophical analysis and psychological investigation. Questions regarding the nature of human freedom and responsibility clearly require the conceptual resources of philosophy and the empirical resources of psychology. (This chapter was written in 2008 for the never published Oxford Handbook on Philosophy of Psychology.)

Author's Profile

Eddy Nahmias
Georgia State University

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