Neuroethics of Free Will

Patrick Haggard

in Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780199570706
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

Neuroethics of Free Will

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  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Clinical Psychology



The concept of individual free will is difficult to reconcile with a materialist view of the brain. The debate over “free will” involves a series of several questions about the origin of human actions, and their resulting social, legal, and ethical implications. This article sets out the reasons that scientific questions regarding free will have important ethical and social consequences. It then considers the neuroscientific debate over whether a conscious experience of volition does or does not precede the brain's preparation for action. It outlines that conscious volition is a consequence of brain activity, perhaps linked to the capacity to inhibit ongoing actions. A major objection to this view is reviewed, based on social psychological studies of unconscious determinants of behavior, and of attribution theory. Finally, some specific issues for neuroethical debate are suggested.

Keywords: free will; neuroethical; conscious volition; brain activity; ethical implications

Article.  3709 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Neuroscience ; Clinical Psychology

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