LSE Workshop on Free Will

13-15 June 2013

Sponsored by the LSE's Department of Government

Supported by the LSE Choice Group

To register, please send an email with subject line "Free Will" to|

Thursday 13 June

2:30pm - 3:45pm         Tim Bayne, University of Manchester
                                         "The Phenomenology of Free Will"

4:00pm - 5:15pm        Maria Alvarez, King's College, London
                                        "Reid versus Hume on Liberty and Choice"

5:45pm - 7:00pm        Alfred Mele, Florida State University
                                       "Free Will and Neuroscience: What Do Old-School                                             and New-Wave Studies Show?"

Friday 14 June

9:00am - 10:15am        Pim Haselager, Radboud University Nijmegen
                                          "Free will: Stuck in the middle with you"

10:30am - 11:45am       Hanna Pickard, University of Oxford
                                           "Psychopathology and the ability to do otherwise"

11:45am - 1:00pm         Thomas Mueller, University of Utrecht
                                           "A model for attributable agency under indeterminism"

Lunch break

2:30pm - 3:45pm         Wlodek Rabinowicz, Lund University
                                        "Two Intuitions about Free Will: Alternative Possibilities                                            and Endorsement" (co-authored with Christian List)

4:00pm - 5:15pm        Jan Broersen, University of Utrecht
                                       "Logical Models of Alternate Possibilities, Responsibility and                                                  Free Will"

5:45pm - 7:00pm        Saul Smilansky, University of Haifa
                                        "The New Free Will Problem: (Mostly) Moral and Political,                                                Not Metaphysical"

Saturday 15 June

9:30am - 10:45am        Alex Leveringhaus, University of Oxford
                                          "Mind the Gap! Smart machines, free will, and responsibility"

11:00am - 12:15pm       Kristina Musholt, LSE
                                           "Neuroscience, free will, and the space of reasons"

12:15pm - 1:00pm         Christian List, LSE
                                           "Short concluding discussion: Three aspects of free will"



Tim Bayne, University of Manchester, "The Phenomenology of Free Will"

Some people claim to have experiences as of libertarian free will, whereas other people claim not to be able to identify any such experience in their own phenomenology. In this paper I contrast disagreement about the phenomenology of free will with other introspectively-based disagreements, and I consider its implications for debates about the nature and accuracy of folk conceptions of free will. 

Maria Alvarez, King's College, London, "Reid versus Hume on Liberty and Choice"

In this paper I examine Thomas Reid's views on liberty and choice and the arguments he develops against Hume's views on this issue. I shall focus on their disagreement about the connection between liberty and necessity, and will explore what response a libertarian like Reid could give to Hume's objection that liberty (when opposed to necessity) is the same thing with chance.

Alfred Mele, Florida State University, "Free Will and Neuroscience: What Do Old-School and New-Wave Studies Show?"

A major source of scientific skepticism about free will is the belief that conscious decisions and intentions never play a role in producing corresponding actions.  I present three serious problems encountered by any attempt to justify this belief by appealing to existing neuroscientific data.  I discuss experiments of three different kinds.  Some use EEG ("old school") and others fMRI or depth electrodes ("new wave").

Pim Haselager, Radboud University Nijmegen, "Free will: Stuck in the middle with you"

I will briefly discuss research from Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Neuroscience, suggesting that organisms instantiate a set of basic behaviors out of which the environment selects. On top of this behavioral repertoire a control system developed that can bias (facilitate or inhibit) the selection of certain behaviors. Consequences of this view for the (non-)existence of free will tend to be too easily drawn, and sometimes neglect the importance of the distinction between being free from the environment and being free from the brain. Specifically, I will focus on Brembs' (2011) suggestion that brains allow us a relatively stable position in between randomness and determinism. I will discuss the implications of 'being stuck in the middle' for the debate about free will.

Hanna Pickard, University of Oxford, "Psychopathology and the ability to do otherwise"

When philosophers want an example of a person who lacks the ability to do otherwise, they turn to psychopathology. Addicts, agoraphobics, kleptomaniacs, neurotics, obsessives, and even psychopathic serial murderers, are all purportedly subject to irresistible desires that compel the person to act: no alternative possibility is supposed to exist. I argue that this conception of psychopathology is false and offer an empirically and clinically informed understanding of disorders of agency which preserves the ability to do otherwise. First, I appeal to standard clinical treatment for disorders of agency and argue that it undermines this conception of psychopathology. Second, I offer a detailed discussion of addiction, where our knowledge of the neurobiological mechanisms underpinning the disorder is relatively advanced. I argue that neurobiology notwithstanding, addiction is not a form of compulsion and I explain how addiction can impair behavioural  control without extinguishing it. Third, I step back from addiction, and brie?y sketch what the philosophical landscape more generally looks like without psychopathological compulsion: we lose our standard purported real-world example of psychologically determined action. I conclude by re?ecting on the centrality of choice and free will to our concept of action, and their potency within clinical treatment for disorders of agency.
Thomas Mueller, University of Utrecht, "A model for attributable agency under indeterminism"

Can there be attributable agency under indeterminism? In this talk, we will first develop this question, starting with the well-known luck objection to libertarianism (indeterminism-based free agency). We will then distinguish different levels of attributability and argue that while some of them are not threatened by indeterminism, our everyday notion of agency indeed presupposes a level of attributability that is prima facie problematic under indeterminism. We will argue, however, that this problem can be overcome. Our argument will not proceed in the abstract, but will rely on a specific model of indeterminism-based free agency that has recently been developed in the context of AI, so-called projective simulation (Briegel, Nature Scientific Reports 2:522, 2012). We argue that this model successfully exemplifies attributable agency under indeterminism, and thus provides an explicit counterexample to the luck objection. Given that our world is indeterministic, libertarianism is therefore a live option.

Wlodek Rabinowicz, Lund University, "Two Intuitions about Free Will: Alternative Possibilities and Endorsement" (co-authored with Christian List)

Free will is widely thought to require (i) the possibility of acting otherwise and (ii) choices that are more than mere 'flukes.' According to (i), a necessary condition for free will is agential-level indeterminism: At some points in time, an agent's prior history admits more than one possible continuation. (As argued by List in another paper, agential-level indeterminism is compatible with physical determinism.) According to (ii), however, this absence of determination may threaten freedom: If each of several alternative actions could have been done, none of them was necessitated by the agent's prior history, and so the agent's actual action seems nothing more than a fluke. We argue that this tension is only apparent, by distinguishing between actions an agent can possibly do and actions she can do with endorsement (which might, but need not, mean actions she can rationally do). To some extent at least, endorsement is a guard against flukishness. The paper develops a general formal framework for this double-pronged approach to free will. An important implication is that if endorsement is necessary for freedom, then free will cannot require the possibility of freely acting otherwise.

Jan Broersen, University of Utrecht, "Logical Models of Alternate Possibilities, Responsibility and Free Will"

In this talk I will investigate how "stit" theory ("see to it that") might contribute to a better understanding of the philosophical problems of free will. I will briefly mention some major arguments pro and con the possibility of free will and review them in the light of stit theory. One result will be a (formal) classification of different kinds of responsibility.

Saul Smilansky, University of Haifa, "The New Free Will Problem: (Mostly) Moral and Political, Not Metaphysical"

The free will problem has been recognized for at least 2000 years. Nevertheless, in the last two generations our understanding of this problem has radically changed, in a way that seems to me to be a clear example of philosophical progress. I illustrate this change through the questions that constitute the free will problem: while the problem has been traditionally understood as a single question or at most as a conjunction of two questions, the new free will problem, I argue, is constituted by four distinct questions. This radical revision also involves a shift from a mostly metaphysical and essentialist-moral emphasis to a much more fluid ethical, political and pragmatic bent. Together, this new understanding of the very questions that we need to ask in order to understand the free will problem, and the distinctly moral, political and pragmatic direction to which the new questions arguably lead, constitute a genuine paradigm shift in the philosophical understanding of the free will problem. 

Alex Leveringhaus, University of Oxford, "Mind the Gap! Smart machines, free will, and responsibility"

In one of its recent adverts, the German car manufacturer Audi told prospective buyers that they could 'meet' their new car at their local Audi dealer. The car and the customer could then decide whether they are right for each other. Of course, the advert should not be taken literally. However, it reveals an important truth: intelligent machines are not just a matter of science fiction. The last couple of decades have seen tremendous advances in technology. Working behind the scenes, machines run many aspects of our society. Powerful computer systems, for instance, regulate the national grid, optimising its performance. Computers trade large quantities of shares on the stock market within milliseconds. The weapons industry is looking to develop weapons that are capable of selecting and engaging targets without an operator. And last but not least, as the Audi advert indicates, cars are being increasingly equipped with sophisticated onboard computers to maximise safety and performance. What are the implications of these and future technological developments for our understanding of responsibility? Up to now we have assumed that operators or manufacturers are responsible for the 'actions' of their machines do. But due to the introduction of ever smarter machines this may no longer be the case. Surely, smart machines are agents, but are they agents that could also be held responsible? The answer to this question has what I call a metaphysical component and a practical component. The metaphysical component clarifies whether machines are agents that have free will, which would be a necessary condition for responsibility. The practical component clarifies whether, even if assume that machines have free will, it makes practical sense to hold them responsible. I argue that it is difficult to provide an affirmative account of both, the metaphysical and practical component. Further, I contend that this should worry us: the use of smart machines may open a responsibility gap in which no one may be responsible. One future challenge for legal and political philosophers consists in 'filling' the responsibility gap.

Kristina Musholt, LSE, "Neuroscience, free will and the space of reasons"
I am going to critically examine the role that neuroscience plays with respect to judgments about free will, agency and moral responsibility in contexts of legal and public policy decision making. I will argue that the judgments that are made in these contexts often portray either a kind of implicit naïve dualism or a naïve reductionism, leading to a tendency to deny agency and responsibility. Both are to be rejected. I will further argue that when judging whether someone is an agent or possesses moral responsibility what matters is whether the person in question is able to participate in normative discourse and practice. This question cannot be answered by appeal to neuroscience alone (though neuroscience can sometimes contribute to explanations as to why people lack this ability).