When Do Robots Have Free Will? Exploring the Relationships between (Attributions of) Consciousness and Free Will

In Marcus Missal & Andrew Cameron Sims Feltz (eds.), Free Will, Causality, and Neuroscience. Brill (forthcoming)
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While philosophers and scientists sometimes suggest (or take for granted) that consciousness is an essential condition for free will and moral responsibility, there is surprisingly little discussion of why consciousness (and what sorts of conscious experience) is important. We discuss some of the proposals that have been offered. We then discuss our studies using descriptions of humanoid robots to explore people’s attributions of free will and responsibility, of various kinds of conscious sensations and emotions, and of reasoning capacities, and examine the relationships between these attributions. Our initial results suggest that people’s attributions of free will are strongly influenced by their attributions of conscious emotions, such as happiness and disappointment, including Strawsonian emotions, such as pride and regret. These results provide some support for an intriguing proposal: Free will requires the capacity to make decisions that really matter to the agent, and for anything to really matter to the agent, she must be able to consciously experience the good and bad effects of the decisions she makes—to suffer and regret, or to enjoy and feel proud of, their outcomes.

Author Profiles

Eddy Nahmias
Georgia State University
Corey Allen
Georgia State University
Bradley Loveall
Georgia State University


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