19 september 2010

More on free will

Here’s an interesting piece by Neil Levy from a few months back, on Does Consciousness Matter? (I only came across it because of its nomination for a 3QD prize). Actually the topic is a little narrower than the title suggests; it asks whether consciousness is essential for free will and moral responsibility (it being assumed that the two are different facets of the same thing – I’m comfortable with that, but some might challenge it). Neil notes that people typically suppose Libet’s findings – which suggest our decisions are made before we are aware of them – make free will impossible.

Neil is not actually all that worried by Libet: the impulses from the event of intention formation ought to be registered later than the event itself in any case, he says; so Libet’s results are exactly what we should have expected. Again, I’m inclined to agree: making a conscious decision is one thing; the second-order business of being conscious of that conscious decision naturally follows slightly later. (Some, of course, would take a very different view here too; some indeed would say that the second-order awareness is actually what constitutes consciousness.)

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