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Free Will and Events in the Brain

Grant R. Gillett
The Journal of Mind and Behavior
Vol. 22, No. 3 (Summer 2001), pp. 287-310
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/43853958
Page Count: 24
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Free Will and Events in the Brain
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Abstract

Free will seems to be part of the romantic echo of a world view which predates scientific psychology and, in particular, cognitive neuroscience. Findings in cognitive neuroscience seem to indicate that some form of physicalist determinism about human behavior is correct. However, when we look more closely we find that physical determinism based on the view that brain events cause mental events is problematic and that the data which are taken to support that view, do nothing of the kind. In fact that view meets some substantial objections which turn on the role of the contents of our thoughts and experiences in explaining our behavior. When we look at mental or psychological content we find it is governed by rules and not just causal laws. Rulefollowing is an activity which invokes the role of the thinker as rational agent and this is not a causal type of explanation. The fact that the thinker as agent is important means that when we invoke the way that a subject thinks about the world, we conceive of that subject as located in a socio-cultural context. This in turn requires that we recognize an explanatory circle according to which neither brain science nor social science can claim priority in explaining human behavior and it follows that, for the purposes of psychological explanation and the understanding of the brain as an organ subserving a system of representation, we are bound to regard human beings as reasoning beings who exert some control over their own behavior and not just as physical systems. This defeats the causal determinist position.

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