Abstract Details

Libet Experiments and Free Will Denialism  Joe Campbell , Kenji Lota (Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs, Washington State University, Pullman, WA )   C7

This paper applies results in philosophical logic to debates about Libet experiments and free will. Consider this argument for free will denialism. I. If determinism is true, then no one has free will. II. If indeterminism is true, then no one has free will. III. Either determinism is true, or indeterminism is true. IV. Ergo, no one has free will. It seems that there are two separate parts, and it is possible to save free will by accepting (I) - the claim of incompatibilism - and denying (II) - that indeterminism compromises free will (Libet 1999). Many free will denialists disagree and believe that there is a 'determinism-independent' argument for free will denialism (Strawson 2010). Some philosophers have attempted to offer arguments for (I) and (II) such that if either is sound, then so is the other (van Inwagen 1983; Nelkin 2001; Finch 2017). In a recent paper (forthcoming), we developed formally identical versions of the arguments that depend on the same premises and inference rule. We convey it here as a single, determinism-independent argument. 1. No one is able to alter facts about the past and the laws. 2. No one is able to alter the fact that the past and the laws causally influence the future. 3. Ergo, no one is able to alter any facts about the future (cf. van Inwagen 2015). The defense of (2) is not that there is an inextricable link between the past and the future, as in the case of determinism, but simply that we live in a law-governed world. Once we have made reference to the relevant past events and the laws of nature, we have exhausted our explanatory resources. This lesson applies equally to Libet experiments. Let RP be a readiness protential, a neural event preceding an arbitrary action A. Once properly generalized, we have an argument for free will denialism given the results from Libet experiments. - No one has conscious control over RP. - No one has conscious control over the fact that RP causally influences A. - Ergo, no one has conscious control over A. The fact that no one has conscious control over RP's causal influence need not suggest that A is inevitable, though A may still be unalterable. Our claim is that RP and its lawlike connection to A are the only factors 'causally relevant to the occurrence' of A (cf. Nelkin 2001). Some indeterministic free will theories - event-causal libertarianism (Balaguer 2010), non-determinism (Libet 1999) - maintain that the second premise in each of the above arguments is false. In response, according to some interpretations of quantum mechanics it is possible that there are statistical laws specifying equal probabilities between two events yet there is no contrastive explanation for why at any particular time one occurs and not the other. Moreover, the rejection of (2) on the basis of some alleged wiggle room for indeterministic free will is open to Derk Pereboom's 'problem of wild coincidences' (1994). Why think our free choices will always 'dovetail' with the frequencies dictated by statistical laws?