Free Will and the Bounds of the Self

Joshua Knobe and Shaun Nichols

in The Oxford Handbook of Free Will

Second edition

Published in print July 2011 | ISBN: 9780195399691
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Free Will and the Bounds of the Self


This article appeals to experimental studies in order to elucidate the reactions of ordinary persons to the picture of the human mind that is prevalent in contemporary cognitive science. According to this prevalent cognitive-scientific picture, the mind is made up of states and processes that interact according to certain rules to generate specific behaviors. The discussion argues that this picture is disturbing to ordinary persons, who reason that if the mind works that way, we would not be morally responsible for what we did because our behaviors would inevitably result from facts about the configuration of states and processes within us. It concludes that people have access to different conceptions of the self, on some of which cognitive science is a genuine threat to free will, on others not. The puzzlement people feel about free will is therefore not merely a superficial muddle that can be dissolved by conceptual clarification.

Keywords: human mind; cognitive science; experimental studies; self-conception; free will

Article.  12280 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Metaphysics

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