Free Will and Consciousness: A Determinist Account of the Illusion of Free Will. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2012.
In recent decades, with advances in the behavioral, cognitive, and neurosciences, the idea that patterns of human behavior may ultimately be due to factors beyond our conscious control has increasingly gained traction and renewed interest in the age-old problem of free will. In this book I examine both the traditional philosophical problems long associated with the question of free will, such as the relationship between determinism and free will, as well as recent experimental and theoretical work directly related to consciousness and human agency. I argue that our best scientific theories indeed have the consequence that factors beyond our control produce all of the actions we perform and that because of this we do not possess the kind of free will required for genuine or ultimate responsibility. I further argue that the strong and pervasive belief in free will, which I consider an illusion, can be accounted for through a careful analysis of our phenomenology and a proper theoretical understanding of consciousness. Indeed, the primary goal of this book is to argue that our subjective feeling of freedom, as reflected in the first-person phenomenology of agentive experience, is an illusion created by certain aspects of our consciousness. So after working to establish that free will is an illusion in the early chapters, I then proceed to give a novel account of just how that illusion is created in the later chapters. I present my illusionist account using one leading theory of consciousness—the higher-order thought (or HOT) theory of consciousness. I maintain that by combining the theoretical framework of the HOT theory with empirical findings in the behavioral, cognitive, and neurosciences, we can come to see that the illusion of free will is created by the particular way our higher-order thoughts make us conscious of our mental states and how our sense of self is constructed within consciousness.
Select Articles and Book Chapters:
"Introduction: Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility," in Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility, ed. Gregg D. Caruso, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books (forthcoming).
This introductory chapter discusses the philosophical and scientific arguments for free will skepticism and their implications—including the debate between Saul Smilansky's illusionism, Thomas Nadelhoffer's disillusionism, Shaun Nichols' anti-revolution, and the optimistic skepticism of Derk Pereboom, Bruce Waller, and Tamler Sommers.
“The Folk Psychology of Free Will: An Argument against Compatibilism,” Kriterion: Journal of Philosophy, 26, 2012: 56-89.
This paper presents existing results and experimental evidence in social psychology to argue against the compatibilist thesis that our folk-psychological notions of freedom and moral responsibility are completely consistent with the acceptance of determinism. In section 1, I spell out the compatibilist position and briefly discuss the standard incompatibilist argument—the so-called consequence argument. In section 2, I take a closer look at the folk psychology of free will and argue that, contra the compatibilist, recent empirical research by Shaun Nichols, Joshua Knobe and others, reveals that our folk-psychological intuitions are essentially incompatibilist and libertarian in nature. I conclude in section 3 by examining the phenomenology of agentive experience and argue that it further undermines the compatibilist thesis.
[This paper is more a survey article. For a more detailed attack on compatibilism—one that not only looks at folk psychology, but also considers issues related to consciousness and recent findings in the behavioral, cognitive, and neurosciences—see my Free Will and Consciousness: A Determinist Account of the Illusion of Free Will.]
“Compatibilism and the Folk Psychology of Free Will,” in An Anthology of Philosophical Studies, Vol. V, ed. Patricia Hanna, Athens, Greece: ATINER, 2011: 215-226.
“Consciousness and Free Will: A Critique of the Argument from Introspection,” Southwest Philosophy Review, Volume 24, number 1, January 2008: 219-231.
One of the main libertarian arguments in support of free will is the argument from introspection. This argument places a great deal of faith in our conscious feeling of freedom and our introspective abilities. People often infer their own freedom from their introspective phenomenology of freedom. It is here argued, however, that from the fact that I feel myself free, it does not necessarily follow that I am free. I maintain that it is our mistaken belief in the transparency and infallibility of consciousness that gives the introspective argument whatever power it possesses. Once we see that consciousness is neither transparent nor infallible, the argument from introspection loses all of its force. I argue that since we do not have direct, infallible access to our own minds, to rely on introspection to infer our own freedom would be a mistake.
“Realism, Naturalism, and Pragmatism: A Closer Look at the Views of Quine and Devitt,” Kriterion: Journal of Philosophy, 21, 2007: 64-83.
Michael Devitt's views on realism and naturalism have a lot in common with those of W.V. Quine. Both appear to be realists; both accept naturalized epistemology and abandon the old goal of first philosophy; both view philosophy as continuous with empirical procedures of science and hence view metaphysics as similarly empirical; and both seem to view realism as following from naturalism. Although Quine and Devitt share quite a bit ideologically, I think there is a deeper, more fundamental dissimilarity between the two. I will explore the difference between them in an attempt to bring out the subtle complexities surrounding the issue of realism—complexities, I will argue, Devitt sometimes overlooks. I will also explore a real tension in Quine between his earlier, more pragmatic (or anti-realist) tendencies and his later, more austere realism. I will conclude by defending a more Quinean brand of realism I call internal realism.
“Sensory States, Consciousness, and the Cartesian Assumption,” in Descartes and Cartesianism, eds. Nathan Smith and Jason Taylor, Cambridge Scholars Press, 2005: 177-199.
One of the central assumptions made in much of contemporary philosophy of mind is that there is no appearance-reality distinction when it comes to sensory states. On this assumption, sensory states simply are as they seem: consciousness is an intrinsic property of sensory states—that is, all sensory states are conscious--and the consciousness of one's own sensory states is never inaccurate. For a sensation to be felt as pain, for example, is for it to be pain. This assumption, which I call the Cartesian assumption, can be seen everywhere from the standard arguments against physicalism—such as those advanced by Kripke, Nagel, and Levine—to current theorizing about consciousness. I here argue that this assumption is false and that it goes wrong in two ways. I further argue that the appeal of the Cartesian assumption is due to a commitment many still have to a poorly motivated and misguided Cartesian model of consciousness and its relation to mental states. As an alternative to this Cartesian concept of mind, I argue for a theory of consciousness which claims that the “phenomenal character” of a sensation or perception—the “what it’s like” to have that sensation—is determined by the content of a higher-order thought one has of that sensory state.
“A Defense of the Adverbial Theory,” Philosophical Writings, Issue 10, Spring 1999: 51-65.
The promise of the adverbial theory to analyze sensation statements without recourse to mental objects has made it a widely accepted theory (see Chisholm 1957; Ducasse 1942; Sellars 1975; and Tye 1984a, 1984b, 1989). Adverbialists, however, have had a hard time addressing one important objection—what Frank Jackson has called the “many property problem.” In Section I, I describe the many property problem and I consider Jackson’s objections to two attempted solutions to it. In Section II, I introduce and defend a Sellarsian solution to the many property problem which avoids the difficulties sketched in Section I. In the process of defending that solution I also consider an additional problem which arises called the “identity problem.” I maintain that this problem too can be overcome, but not without first considering certain issues of ontology. This leads me in Section III to consider Jackson’s thesis of univocality and to develop an alternative.
“A Review of David Cockburn’s An Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind,” Metapsychology, Vol. 6, Issue 26, June 2002.
“A Review of Nicholas Humphrey’s How to Solve the Mind-Body Problem,” Philosophical Writings, Issue 18, Autumn 2001: 51-53. Reprinted in Metapsychology, Vol. 5, Issue 46, November 2001.
Co-author (with David M. Rosenthal), “Bibliography 1971-2000,” in Materialism and the Mind-Body Problem, revised edition, ed. David M. Rosenthal, Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 2000.