Neuroscience, free will, and responsibility

the current state of play

Neil Levy*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


A number of psychologists and neuroscientists have argued that experimental findings about the psychological basis of human behavior demonstrate that we lack free will, or that it is limited in ways we do not realize. In this chapter, I survey some of the main claims in this literature, with an eye to situating the contributions to come. I examine Benjamin Libet’s work on the timing of awareness of action initiation, Daniel Wegner’s claim that acting and thinking that one is acting dissociate, and related experimental work, and suggest that the threat to free will is smaller than has often been thought. I then turn to the question whether thebrain is deterministic, and situate that question within philosophical debates. From global threats to free will, I move to local threats: the claim that the situationist literature in psychology shows that we lack free will under some circumstances. Finally, I examine recent developments in experimental philosophy, which aim to reveal ordinary people’s views on free will.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Neuroethics
EditorsJens Clausen, Neil Levy
Place of PublicationDordrecht
PublisherSpringer, Springer Nature
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9789400747074
ISBN (Print)9789400747067
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015
Externally publishedYes

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