Free Will and Consciousness

November 19, 2015 - November 20, 2015
Abraham Kuyper Center, VU University Amsterdam

De Boelelaan 1105
Amsterdam 1081HV

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Neil Levy
Oxford Centre for Neuroethics
Macquarie University
Adina Roskies
Dartmouth College


VU University Amsterdam
Leon De Bruin
VU University Amsterdam
Gerrit Glas
VU University Amsterdam

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In recent years, neuroscientific and (social) psychological experimentation have played a significant role in discussions on free will. Several experiments seem to show that (many of) our actions and decisions are caused or influenced by unconscious processes. In general, the focus of the discussion has been on whether these experiments show that conscious processes are never causally efficacious and whether science shows that free will does not exist or is an illusion.

 An important and underexplored question is how free will and consciousness actually are related. The workshop further elaborates on this relationship in the light of recent studies in neuroscience and psychology. With that, we aim to enrich the discussion and exchange between science and philosophy on the topic of free will. Possible research questions include but are not limited to:

1. If consciousness and free will are related, how should we understand this (causal) relationship?

2. What is the relationship between physical / neural causes and unconscious mental causes of behavior / action and free will? (How) Can we distinguish between both kinds of causes? Is this distinction relevant in relation to free will?

3. Do we need to be conscious of (all) the causes of and/or reasons for our intentions, decisions, or actions in order for them to be free? Does it matter whether we can become conscious of them or whether they are inaccessible to consciousness?

4. If we accept that unconsciously caused actions and/or decisions can be free, how should we distinguish between free and unfree action?

5. What does it mean for actions or decisions to originate from ‘within the agent’ or be ‘up to me’ and how is this related to conscious, mental, and/or bodily processes?

The workshop is part of the project Science beyond Scientism.

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