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Fear of mechanism. A compatibilist critique of ‘The Volitional Brain’

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This article reviews contributions to The Volitional Brain, some of which defend a libertarian, contra-causal account of free will, while others take a so-called compatibilist view, in which adequate conceptions of human liberty and moral responsibility are claimed to be compatible with naturalistic causality. Siding with compatibilism, this review finds that defenders of libertarian free will place undue weight on the first person feeling of freedom, while discounting scientific evidence that human choices are fully a function of antecedent causes at various levels of description. It is argued that morality, justice, and personal responsibility and efficacy do not require the assumption that persons are first causes, so that we need not fear mechanism when applied to human agency.

Keywords: Free will; agency; choice; compatibilism; freedom; mechanism; morality; personal responsibility

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: 34 Winslow Avenue, Somerville, MA 02144, USA.

Publication date: August 1, 1999

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