Advertisement

Philosophical Studies

, Volume 173, Issue 3, pp 573–587 | Cite as

Are intentions in tension with timing experiments?

  • Marcela Herdova
Article

Abstract

Libet’s timing experiments (Brain 106:623–642, 1983; Mind time. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2004) have resulted in some strong and unsavoury claims about human agency. These range from the idea that conscious intentions are epiphenomenal to the idea that we all lack free will. In this paper, I propose a new type of response to the various sceptical conclusions about our agency occasioned by both Libet’s work and other experiments in this testing paradigm. Indeed, my argument extends to such conclusions drawn from fMRI-based prediction experiments. In what follows, I will provide a brief description of these experiments, sketch arguments one may be tempted to draw on their basis, and argue that such arguments rely on a questionable premise: that experimental subjects have relevant proximal intentions (which, thus far, both proponents and opponents of these arguments agree on).

Keywords

Libet Timing experiments Intentions Consciousness Free will 

Notes

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Randolph Clarke, Alfred Mele, David Papineau and Robyn Repko Waller for helpful comments on this paper. A special thanks goes to Stephen Kearns.

References

  1. Bayne, T. (2011). Libet and the case for free will scepticism. In R. Swinburne (Ed.), Free will and modern science, pp. 25–46. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Brand, M. (1984). Intending and acting. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bratman, M. E. (1987/1999). Intention, plans, and practical reason. Stanford: CSLI Publications.Google Scholar
  4. Carruthers, P. (2007). The illusion of conscious will. Synthese, 159, 197–213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Davidson, D. (1963/2001). Actions, reasons and causes. In D. Davidson. Essays on actions and events, 2nd edn. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  6. Haynes, J. D. (2011). Beyond Libet: Long–term prediction of free choices from neuroimagining signals. In W. Sinnott-Armstrong, L. Nadel (Eds.), Conscious will and responsibility, pp. 85–96. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Holton, R. (2009). Willing, wanting, waiting. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Jeannerod, M. (1994). The representing brain. Neural correlates of motor intention and imagery. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 17, 187–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Jeannerod, M. (1997). The cognitive neuroscience of action. Malden, MA: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  10. Keller, I., & Heckhausen, H. (1990). Readiness potentials preceding spontaneous motor acts: Voluntary vs. involuntary control. Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology, 76, 351–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lau, H. C., Rogers, R. D., Haggard, P., & Passingham, R. E. (2004). Attention to intention. Science, 303, 1208–1210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Levy, N. (2005). Libet’s impossible demand. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 12, 67–76.Google Scholar
  13. Libet, B. (1999). Do we have free will? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 6, 47–57.Google Scholar
  14. Libet, B. (2004). Mind time: The temporal factor in consciousness. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Libet, B., Gleason, C. A., Wright, E. W., & Pearl, D. K. (1983). Time of conscious intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity (readiness-potential). The unconscious initiation of a freely voluntary act. Brain, 106, 623–642.Google Scholar
  16. Livingston, P. (2005). Art and intention: A philosophical study. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Lumer, C. (2013). The volitive and the executive function of intentions. Philosophical Studies, 166(3), 511–527.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Mele, A. R. (1992). Springs of action: Understanding intentional behavior. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Mele, A. R. (2009). Effective intentions. The power of conscious will. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Pacherie, E. (2006). Towards a dynamic theory of intentions. In S. Pockett, W.P. Banks & S. Gallagher (Eds.), Does consciousness cause behavior?, pp. 145–167. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  21. Pockett, S., & Purdy, S. C. (2011). Are voluntary movements initiated preconsciously? The relationships between readiness potentials, urges and decisions. In W. Sinnott-Armstrong, L. Nadel (Eds.), Conscious will and responsibility, pp. 34–46. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Searle, J. R. (1983). Intentionality: An essay in the philosophy of mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Soon, C. S., Brass, M., Heinze, H. J., & Haynes, J. D. (2008). Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature Neuroscience, 11, 543–545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Strawson, G. (1994). Mental reality. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  25. Waller, R. R. (2012). Beyond button presses: The neuroscience of free and morally appraisable actions. The Monist, 95, 441–462.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Wegner, D. M. (2002). The illusion of conscious will. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

Personalised recommendations