University of Twente Student Theses


Neuroscience and free will : reconsidering the rejection of free will from the vantage point of an anti-essentialist self

Assen, L.S. (2013) Neuroscience and free will : reconsidering the rejection of free will from the vantage point of an anti-essentialist self.

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Abstract:The aim of this thesis is to investigate how the interpretations of several neuroscientific experiments by Libet, Wegner and Nisbett and Wilson change when we presuppose an anti-essentialistic self. The debate around free will that is informed by neuroscience is based upon the question whether we are in control of our behaviour. Neuroscientists as Wegner, Lamme and Swaab claim that our brain determines our behaviour. Their claim is based upon experimental data that shows that people ascribe false reasons to their behaviour. Other experiments show that not consciousness, but unconscious processes initiate our behaviour. Therefore the idea of free will is rejected. Among others, Wegner presupposes that the self coincides with consciousness. The self that coincides with consciousness is not tenable. It presupposes a conscious-unconscious dualism and subsequently an inside-outside demarcation. When we acknowledge a difference between short and long-term intentions philosophical and scientific insights show that consciousness can influence unconscious processes and subsequently behaviour. The conscious-unconscious dualism acknowledges implicitly an idea of essential properties. To combat that view of the self I propose an anti-essentialistic self that is based upon Helmuth Plessner’s philosophical anthropology. The anti-essentialistic self entails that the self and free will are not pre-given and have to develop in the interactions a self has with its environment. This will lead to an idea that someone is free when his behaviour corresponds with his long-term intentions in terms of habits, goals and ideals. The reinterpretation of the neuroscientific experiments show that those experiments do not reject free will. Instead those experiments help us in finding the limits of how our consciousness plays a role in our behaviour. Subsequently such experiments will learn us more about how unconsciousness and consciousness interact.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:08 philosophy
Programme:Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society MSc (60024)
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