Conscious Willing and the Emerging Sciences of Brain and Behavior
Book: Downward Causation and the Neurobiology of Free Will
Recent studies within neuroscience and cognitive psychology have explored the place of conscious willing in the generation of purposive action. Some have argued that certain findings indicate that the commonsensical view that we control many of our actions through conscious willing is largely or wholly illusory. I rebut such arguments, contending that they typically rest on a conflation of distinct phenomena. Nevertheless, I also suggest that traditional philosophical accounts of the will need to be revised: a raft of studies indicate that control over one’s own will among human beings is limited, fragile, and – insofar as control depends to an extent on conscious knowledge – admitting of degrees. I briefly sketch several dimensions along which freedom of the will may vary over time and across agents.