The neuroscientific study of free will: A diagnosis of the controversy

Synthese 191 (2):245-262 (2014)
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Benjamin Libet’s work paved the way for the neuroscientific study of free will. Other scientists have praised this research as groundbreaking. In philosophy, the reception has been more negative, often even dismissive. First, I will propose a diagnosis of this striking discrepancy. I will suggest that the experiments seem irrelevant, from the perspective of philosophy, due to the way in which they operationalize free will. In particular, I will argue that this operational definition does not capture free will properly and that it is based on a false dichotomy between internal and external causes. However, I will also suggest that this problem could be overcome, as there are no obvious obstacles to an operationalization of free will that is in accord with the philosophical conception of free will

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