Journal of Philosophical Investigations

Document Type : Research Paper


Professor of Philosophy at the College of the Holy Cross


Human “free will” has been made problematic by several recent arguments against mental causation, the unity of the I or “self,” and the possibility that conscious decision-making could be temporally prior to action. This paper suggests a pathway through this thicket for free will or self-determination. Doing so requires an account of mind as an emergent process in the context of animal psychology and mental causation. Consciousness, a palpable but theoretically more obscure property of some minds, is likely to derive from complex animals’ real-time monitoring of internal state in relation to environment. Following Antonio Damasio, human mind appears to add to nonhuman “core consciousness” an additional narrative “self-consciousness.” The neurological argument against free will, most famously from Benjamin Libet, can be avoided as long as “free will” means, not an impossible event devoid of prior causation, but an occasional causal role played by narrative self-consciousness in behavioral determination. There is no necessary incompatibility between the scientific and evolutionary exploration of mind and consciousness and the uniquely self-determining capabilities of human mentality which are based on the former.


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