Libet-like Experiments and the Efficacy of the Will

Sofia Bonicalzi


Abstract: Skepticism about free will is increasingly often associated with the results of some empirical tests – launched by Libet’s trailblazing experiments on the timing of conscious intentions – aiming to teach us that our apparently free choices are originated unconsciously. In the present paper, I present some theoretical reasons to doubt if the upshots of Libet-like experiments purport to the revolutionary consequences they envisage. I will isolate a couple of points I wish to discuss, since they gained much attention in the recent philosophical debate. First, I claim that actually available neuroscientific data do not offer a solution to the traditional free will quarrel in compatibilist or incompatibilist terms. Second, one might doubt if the kind of free will that is at stake in Libet-like experiments is what really matters for grounding our normative concepts. My conclusion will be that what is scrutinised in Libet-like experiments resembles palely the kind of free will we would like to enjoy.

Keywords: Libet-like Experiments; Efficacy of the Will; Illusionism; Compatibilism / Incompatibilism; Control.


Esperimenti à la Libet ed efficacia della volontà

Riassunto: Lo scetticismo sul libero arbitrio è sempre più spesso associato ai risultati di alcuni test empirici – inaugurati dai pionieristici esperimenti di Libet sulla tempistica delle intenzioni coscienti – il cui scopo consiste nel mostrare che scelte apparentemente libere hanno un’origine inconscia. L’articolo si propone di offrire alcune ragioni teoriche per dubitare che i risultati degli esperimenti à la Libet portino alle rivoluzionarie conseguenze che promettono. Discuterò di due questioni che hanno ricevuto particolare attenzione nel dibattito filosofico recente. In primo luogo, si sosterrà che i dati attualmente disponibili non consentono di formulare una soluzione del tradizionale problema del libero arbitrio in termini compatibilisti o incompatibilisti. In secondo luogo, si metterà in dubbio che il tipo di scelta libera che è in gioco negli esperimenti à la Libet abbia un ruolo nella costruzione dei concetti normativi. La conclusione consisterà nella tesi secondo cui l’oggetto di indagine degli esperimenti ispirati da Libet è solo lontanamente simile al tipo di libero arbitrio di cui vorremmo godere.

Parole chiave: Esperimenti à la Libet; Efficacia della volontà; Illusionismo; Compatibilismo / Incompatibilismo; Controllo.

Parole chiave

Libet's Experiments; Efficacy of the Will; Illusionism; Compatibilism / Incompatibilism; Control

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