Consciousness, Free Will, and Moral Responsibility
Forthcoming in Routledge Handbook of Consciousness. Edited by Rocco J. Gennaro
34 Pages Posted: 23 Dec 2016 Last revised: 27 Dec 2016
Date Written: December 21, 2016
In recent decades, with advances in the behavioral, cognitive, and neurosciences, the idea that patterns of human behavior may ultimately be due to factors beyond our conscious control has increasingly gained traction and renewed interest in the age-old problem of free will. To properly assess what, if anything, these empirical advances can tell us about free will and moral responsibility, we first need to get clear on the following questions: Is consciousness necessary for free will? If so, what role or function must it play? Are agents morally responsible for actions and behaviors that are carried out automatically or without conscious control or guidance? Are they morally responsible for actions, judgments, and attitudes that are the result of implicit biases or situational features of their surroundings of which they are unaware? What about the actions of somnambulists or cases of extreme sleepwalking where consciousness is largely absent? Clarifying the relationship between consciousness and free will is imperative if we want to evaluate the various arguments for and against free will. For example, do compatibilist reasons- responsive and deep self accounts require consciousness? If so, are they threatened by recent developments in the behavior, cognitive, and neurosciences? What about libertarian accounts of free will? What powers, if any, do they impart to consciousness and are they consistent with our best scientific theories about the world? In this survey piece, I will outline and assess several distinct views on the relationship between consciousness and free will.
Keywords: consciousness, free will, moral responsibility, Libet, will, conscious will, libertarianism, compatibilism, free will skepticism
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