, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 237–244 | Cite as

Free Will, Self-Governance and Neuroscience: An Overview

  • Alisa Carse
  • Hilary Bok
  • Debra JH Mathews
Original Paper


Given dramatic increases in recent decades in the pace of scientific discovery and understanding of the functional organization of the brain, it is increasingly clear that engagement with the neuroscientific literature and research is central to making progress on philosophical questions regarding the nature and scope of human freedom and responsibility. While patterns of brain activity cannot provide the whole story, developing a deeper and more precise understanding of how brain activity is related to human choice and conduct is crucial to the development of realistic, just, and intellectually rigorous models of human agency and moral responsibility. In this special issue, we acknowledge that “free will” and “moral responsibility” are not concepts with which neuroscience can directly engage, and instead focus on self-governance, and the capacities that contribute to self-governance, which are more tractable for scientific investigation and are prerequisites for the presence of moral responsibility.


Free will Self-governance Moral responsibility Neuroscience Decision-making 



We wish to express our gratitude to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Henry R. Luce Foundation (through a Professorship to HB) for their generous support for this work. Special thanks to editor Neil Levy for his helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyGeorgetown UniversityWashington DCUSA
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy, Johns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA
  3. 3.Berman Institute of Bioethics and Department of PediatricsJohns Hopkins UniversityBaltimoreUSA

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