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Libet-style experiments, neuroscience, and libertarian free will

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People have disagreed on the significance of Libet-style experiments for discussions about free will. In what specifically concerns free will in a libertarian sense, some argue that Libet-style experiments pose a threat to its existence by providing support to the claim that decisions are determined by unconscious brain events. Others disagree by claiming that determinism, in a sense that conflicts with libertarian free will, cannot be established by sciences other than fundamental physics. This paper rejects both positions. First, it is argued that neuroscience and psychology could in principle provide support for milder deterministic claims that would also conflict with libertarian free will. Second, it is argued that Libet-style experiments—due to some of their peculiar features, ones that need not be shared by neuroscience as a whole—currently do not (but possibly could) support such less demanding deterministic claims. The general result is that neuroscience and psychology could in principle undermine libertarian free will, but that Libet-style experiments have not done that so far.
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Keywords: Benjamin Libet; determinism; free will; libertarianism; neuroscience

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, Universidade Federal de Santa Maria, Santa Maria, RS, Brazil

Publication date: May 18, 2016

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