Beyond Button Presses: The Neuroscience of Free and Morally Appraisable Actions

The Monist 95 (3):441-462 (2012)
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What are the types of action at issue in the free will and moral responsibility debate? Are the neuroscientists who make claims about free will and moral responsibility studying those types of action? If not, can the existing paradigm in the field be modified to study those types of action? This paper outlines some claims made by neuroscientists about the inefficacy of conscious intentions and the implications of this inefficacy for the existence of free will. It argues that, typically, the types of actions at issue in the philosophical literature require proximal or distal conscious decisions and have the right kind of connection to reasons. It points out that neuroscientists are not studying this class of actions, as their studies focus on simple commanded actions (e.g., finger flex) and simple Buridan choices (e.g., push the left or right button). Finally, it argues that neuroscience already has the resources to study the types of action relevant for free will and moral responsibility and outlines two experiments which focus on skilled actions and moral choices that could be run using the available technology.
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