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Libet's Impossible Demand

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Libet's famous experiments, showing that apparently we become aware of our intention to act only after we have unconsciously formed it, have widely been taken to show that there is no such thing as free will. If we are not conscious of the formation of our intentions, many people think, we do not exercise the right kind of control over them. I argue that the claim this view presupposes, that only consciously initiated actions could be free, places a condition upon freedom of action which it is in principle impossible to fulfil, for reasons that are conceptual and not merely contingent. Exercising this kind of control would require that we control our control system, which would simply cause the same problem to arise at a higher-level or initiate an infinite regress of controllings. If the unconscious initiation of actions, as well as the takings of decisions, is incompatible with control over them, then free will is impossible on conceptual grounds. Thus, Libet's experiments do not constitute a separate, empirical, challenge to our freedom.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, Department of Philosophy, University of Melbourne, Parkville Vic 3010, Australia. ., Email: [email protected]

Publication date: January 1, 2005

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