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Towards a scientific conception of free will

Iredale, Mathew Walter Martin; (1995) Towards a scientific conception of free will. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Can we reach a satisfactory conception of free will that is consistent with the current scientific world view? This important problem is the subject of this thesis. It is argued that certain areas of science raise profound problems for libertarian conceptions of free will and moral responsibility. Specifically, it is unclear how libertarian free will can arise from the neuronal processes of the brain; it is unclear how, or why, it has evolved; and it is inconsistent with the physicist's conception of time as it is understood through Einstein's Theory of Relativity. These are problems which do not arise for compatibilist conceptions of free will. Furthermore, there are a number of more philosophical objections which can be raised against libertarianism—including Harry Frankfurt's argument against the principle of alternate possibilities and Galen Strawson's recent objection to ultimate responsibility—which strongly indicate that we do not have free will or moral responsibility in any libertarian sense. As a consequence of this various compatibilist conceptions of free will are considered in order to see if a satisfactory compatibilist account of free will can be reached. It is concluded that an epistemic account of free will based upon Richard Double's autonomy variable account of free will is the most satisfactory. Several libertarian objections to compatibilism are discussed and rejected. Finally, some general objections to free will and moral responsibility that have recently been raised by Ted Honderich, Richard Double, and Bruce Waller are discussed. It is argued that they provide no reason to doubt that we have free will. It is therefore concluded that we can reach a satisfactory conception of free will that is consistent with the current scientific world view.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Towards a scientific conception of free will
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
Keywords: Philosophy, religion and theology; Free will
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10106137
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