When it comes to the sciences of the mind, free will, and moral responsibility, some people already believe that there is a revolution under foot. Others are understandably less sanguine. According to the former view, as scientists continue to demystify the mind by identifying the cognitive mechanisms that undergird human behavior, the traditional picture of free will and moral agency could be torn asunder. According to the latter view, while recent and future discoveries in psychology and cognate fields will surely shed new and interesting light on how the human mind works, they will largely leave our traditional views of agency and responsibility intact. Two different central questions arise on this front. The first is descriptive—namely, what effects will future developments in psychology likely have on the way we view ourselves? The second is normative—namely, what effects should these developments have?
Obviously these two questions are intimately related. Perhaps the key unifying issue is whether the gathering data from the sciences of the mind merely help explain human agency or whether they actually carry the seeds of a paradigm shift in how we think about free will and moral responsibility. Needless to say, it is a very exciting time for researchers who are interested in these issues. Only time will tell whether those who counsel revolution, or those who defend the traditional picture of free will and responsibility, are largely correct. In the upcoming months, this is an issue I plan to explore on this blog in some detail. In the meantime, I thought I would post a couple of links to some recent work that is relevant to the thorny issues that arise on this front.
First, you should check out this recent post by Eddy Nahmias over at Garden of Forking Paths (the free will blog) about his latest work on folk intuitions concerning free will. Having co-authored several papers with Eddy, I strongly recommend his work in experimental philosophy--which is both careful and ground breaking. Indeed, his earlier work (e.g., see here) that shows that people find reductive mechanism more threatening to free will and moral responsibility than determinism is directly relevant to how neuroscience might change our conceptions of agency and responsibility.
Second, you should check out the debate between our own Josh Greene (see here) and Stephen Morse (see here and here) about the effect (or lack thereof) neuroscience could and should have on the criminal law in the near and distant future.
Finally, you can download this fairly complete bibliography of recent empirical work on psychology and free will (which was compiled by Chris Zarpentine):
It doesn't include the work done by experimental philosophers on folk intuitions concerning free will, but I will post something separately about this research soon. On that note, happy reading for now!