Scientific Challenges to Free Will and Moral Responsibility

Philosophy Compass 10 (3):197-207 (2015)
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Here, I review work from three lines of research in cognitive science often taken to threaten free will and moral responsibility. This work concerns conscious deciding, the experience of acting, and the role of largely unnoticed situational influences on behavior. Whether this work in fact threatens free will and moral responsibility depends on how we ought to interpret it, and depends as well on the nature of free and responsible behavior. I discuss different ways this work has been interpreted and argue that though work on conscious deciding and the experience of acting presents no real threat, work on situational influences is more difficult to dismiss. This work may present a real threat, and it may require us to revise our commonsense understanding of free and responsible behavior. But this work may also present ways to augment free and responsible behavior. Determining whether and how advancing science threatens, enhances, or simply describes free will is an ongoing task for scientists and philosophers alike.
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Archival date: 2015-11-21
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