Free Will and the Bounds of the Self

Joshua Knobe, Shaun Nichols

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


This article appeals to experimental studies in order to elucidate the reactions of ordinary persons to the picture of the human mind that is prevalent in contemporary cognitive science. According to this prevalent cognitivescientific picture, the mind is made up of states and processes that interact according to certain rules to generate specific behaviors. The discussion argues that this picture is disturbing to ordinary persons, who reason that if the mind works that way, we would not be morally responsible for what we did because our behaviors would inevitably result from facts about the configuration of states and processes within us. It concludes that people have access to different conceptions of the self, on some of which cognitive science is a genuine threat to free will, on others not. The puzzlement people feel about free will is therefore not merely a superficial muddle that can be dissolved by conceptual clarification.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Free Will
Subtitle of host publicationSecond Edition
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199940387
ISBN (Print)9780195399691
StatePublished - Sep 18 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive science
  • Experimental studies
  • Free will
  • Human mind
  • Self-conception

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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