PHIL 255: Week 11

Free Will


The final exam is scheduled for Dec. 21, 9-11:30, AL 105.

Essay topics are available; the essay is due Dec. 1.


Hot Thought: Mechanisms of Emotional Cognition

When are actions free?

1. When they are uncaused?

No: they must be caused by our desires and intentions.

Randomness is not freedom.

2. When they are internal?

No: some internal causes are involuntary, e.g. sleepwalking.

3. When agents are aware of intentions?

No: obsessive-compulsive disorders.

4. When agents feel free?

No: claustrophobia, OCD, addiction.

5. When the agent could have done otherwise?

No: Too weak and hard to determine.

6. When the agent is unemotional?

No: emotions often aren't irrational, and can be legimate motivations.

Neural aspects of decison making

No sharp distinction between the voluntary and involuntary: look for prototypes.

Relevant brain structures: anterior cingulate, insula, ventromedial prefrontal cortex, etc.

Ways to be unfree

1. Coerced externally by others.

2. Structural damage to brain, e.g. tumors, lesions.

3. Chemical imbalances in the brain, e.g. schizophrenia.


Does not require absolute free will.

Presumption: people are to be treated as acting freely unless there is coercion or brain damage.

Punishment is justified by its social benefits.

Origins of ethics

Theological: what God says.

Reason (Kant): we have duties based on what we can will to be universal.

Calculation (Utilitarians): greatest happiness for the greatest number.

Caring: mirror neurons -> emotional contagion -> empathy -> moral concern for others.

Are psychopaths brain damaged?



Phil 255

Computational Epistemology Laboratory.

Paul Thagard

This page updated Nov. 21, 2005