Term Paper: Free Will Exist

Pages: 9 (2476 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Black Studies - Philosophy  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] However, the lower left quadrant and the upper right quadrant illustrate controversial cases of human action/inaction with illusory feelings of doing/not doing. In the upper right quadrant, named "automatisms," human actions, such as "alien hands" constitute actions that might appear to be human voluntary actions but are in fact not controlled by the will. The lower left hand quadrant illustrates the cases in which humans believe they are in control but are actually not acting. Using several examples, including his own mistaken belief that he was playing a game that had not even started and a person's belief that he/she has influenced the outcome of a sporting event by simply watching it, Wegner illustrates that we often operate under the assumption that we are acting/controlling when in fact we are not acting at all (Wegner 10). Exploring particularly the controversial illusions of automatism and illusory control without action, Wegner concludes that each of our actions is such a complex set of physical and mental processes that our minds create simplifying appearances that make us seem in control when we often are not in control. As Wegner states, "The mind has a self-explanation mechanism that produces a roughly continuous sense that what is in consciousness is the cause of action -- the phenomenal will -- whereas in fact the mind can't even know itself well enough to be able to say what the causes of its actions are" (Wegner 28). In sum, Wegner concludes that much of what we deem free or conscious will -- I wanted to do it, therefore I did it -- is neither free nor conscious nor necessarily action.

f. There is Free Will but Much of What Passes for Free Will is Actually Action Commenced Prior to the Agent's Will

Relying on neuroscientific studies and cognitive psychology, Benjamin Libet conducted a series of experiments to determine whether Free Will actually controls action. In Do We Have Free Will?, Libet outlines his study results and concludes that many human actions actually commence shortly before the "agent" wills the action (Libet 49). According to Libet, the traditional notion of Free Will would tend to require that the will to do an act precedes the act; however, for Libet, the commencement of the act precedes the will to do the act and, therefore, much of Free Will is actually an illusion. At best, according to Libet, we have the ability to veto actions that have already commenced (Libet 51). In that respect, we still have an element of Free Will, and Libet appears to fall back on traditional notions that Free Will does exist, though his somewhat controversial conclusions militate against Free Will as the initiator of action. If Libet's conclusions are taken as true, the implications for morality are clear: humans cannot be held morally responsible for actions that commence prior to our willing those actions; however, humans can be held morally responsible for vetoing and therefore "controlling" those actions (Libet 54-55).

3. Conclusion

It is fortunate that this work does not require a definitive conclusion about the existence and impact of "Free Will," for review of sources from class reading and independent reading reveals that the only definitive conclusion can be that there is no definitive conclusion. It appears that each philosopher in his turn treats Free Will and aspects of Free Will somewhat differently and arrives at unique conclusions. Descartes takes the most extreme position examined, apparently believing that there is Free Will and that it is completely unrestrained and undiminished by divine grace or natural knowledge. Immanuel Kant believed that there is Free Will but it is based solely in the rational aspect of the human being and is known essentially because we rationally know that we have certain incontrovertible duties. Roderick Chisholm believes that there is Free Will but that it is specifically linked to a type of "agent causation" as opposed to transeunt or "event" causation. Peter Van Inwagen believes that there is Free Will but only in a very small set of circumstances illustrated by "a garden of forking paths," some of which are illusions. Daniel M. Wegner believes that there is Free Will but that much of our supposed Free Will or Conscious Will is actually a simplistic illusion created for our benefits by our minds. Finally, Benjamin Libet believes there is Free Will but simultaneously refutes much of the traditional notion of Free Will through experiments indicating that many of our actions precede our will and that our exercise of Free Will primarily resides in controlling commenced actions by "vetoing" them. In sum, without even addressing the work of philosophers who do not believe in the existence of Free Will at all, we see disparate approaches to Free Will, to its nature, to its extent and to its moral implications. Indeed, some of these philosophers themselves decry the "incoherence" of philosophical treatments of "Free Will" while attempting to contribute their own thoughts on a vital philosophical topic that shows no signs of uniform conclusions.

Works Cited

Chisholm, Roderick M. "Human Freedom and the Self." Eds. Perry, John, Michael Bratman and John Martin Fischer. Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings, 5th ed. New York, NY: Oxford, 2010. 392-99. Print.

Descartes, Rene, et al. Descartes: Selected Philosophical Writings. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1988. Print.

Kant, Immanuel. "Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals." Eds. Perry, John, Michael Bratman and John Martin Fischer. Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings, 5th ed. New York, NY: Oxford, 2010. 504-20. Print.

Libet, Benjamin. "Do We Have Free Will?" Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6 (8-9) (1999): 47-57. Print.

Van Inwagen, Peter. "The Powers of Rational Beings: Freedon of the Will." Eds. Perry, John, Michael Bratman and John Martin Fischer. Introduction to Philosophy: Classical and Contemporary Readings. New York, NY:… [END OF PREVIEW]

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