Do We Have Free Will?

Benjamin Libet

in The Oxford Handbook of Free Will

Published in print March 2005 | ISBN: 9780195178548
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

 Do We Have Free Will?

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This article takes an experimental approach to the question of whether we have free will, with special reference to the role consciousness plays in free voluntary action. It shows that voluntary acts are preceded by a specific electrical charge in the brain (the “readiness potential”), which begins several hundred milliseconds before the human subjects become consciously aware of their intention to act. This suggests that the volitional process is initiated unconsciously. Some philosophers and scientists have been tempted to conclude that willed actions are determined by unconscious forces and hence that our awareness of conscious control is illusory. However, it is argued that there is still a role for consciousness in controlling the outcome of willed actions, since consciousness can veto the act once underway. Thus, free will is not necessarily excluded, though novel neuroscientific findings place constraints on how free will could operate and how we are to make sense of it in terms of current research on the brain.

Keywords: consciousness; conscious will; voluntary action; volition; brain

Article.  5493 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Metaphysics

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