The problem of free will is among the central problems in philosophy. While it has been widely discussed throughout its history, over the last decades we have witnessed an enormous increase of interest in it. This is due not only to the recent developments in philosophy itself but also to the fact that recent developments in the sciences – especially in physics, psychology, biology and neuroscience – present us with insights which bring new light to our understanding of the world and human agency. Consequently, the traditional problem of free will has been transformed, and philosophers are facing new challenges in their attempts to provide coherent accounts.
It is not surprising, therefore, that a vast variety of theories and positions on free will are offered in contemporary philosophy. While several decades ago the main distinction was simply the one between compatibilists – those who assert that free will and determinism are compatible – and incompatibilists – those who assert that they are not compatible – with a further division of the latter camp into those who deny free will (determinists) and those who deny determinism (libertarians), the situation today is much more complex. Libertarians are thus divided on some crucial issues, and one can distinguish between agent-causal, event-causal and noncausalist or simple indeterminist libertarian positions, with some further distinctions. Compatibilism has also been through a significant transformation, especially since the seminal works of P. F. Strawson (1962) and Harry Frankfurt (1969), and even determinism cannot be taken as a single position. Besides, there are certain views that are properly classified as revisionist.
As suggested, the reasons for such a variety of approaches are not to be found only in philosophy. It is to a large extent the consequence of some developments in various sciences. Traditionally, the problem of free will amounts to the question of how it is possible to fit our experience of ourselves as free agents, who exercise at least some degree of control over our actions and who can hence be held responsible for them, with the fact that there are strong reasons to believe (both on a priori and, more importantly, empirical grounds) that the universe is a deterministic system. Quantum physics introduced indeterminism, but then further questions arise: How to interpret quantum indeterminacy? What bearing, if any, does the quantum scale have on the behavior of the large-scale systems such as human body? In addition, isn’t it rather the case that indeterminacy, being random and uncontrollable, actually preclude our freedom and responsibility? How best to construct indeterminacy such that it is seen as something that enhances our freedom? These and similar questions are hotly debated in contemporary approaches to the free will problem.
On the other hand, developments in other sciences, notably in neuroscience, may be seen as throwing a different light on the traditional problem. Most famously, the well-known Libet experiment, and a number of subsequent experiments, prompted many psychologists and neuroscientists to believe that freedom of will is merely an illusion. However, as recent contributions of several philosophers show, this problem is far from being resolved.
Our research is based on two broad assumptions. First, the problem of free will is related to a group of several philosophical issues, and as such, it cannot be fully treated by a single philosophical discipline. Our accounts will probably be constrained by our interests, and any account we may offer will be prone to revision if considered from a different viewpoint. Hence the need for a project such as this: we plan to address the problem from different angles, but in a sufficiently systematic manner. Second, while we believe that free will is first and foremost a philosophical issue, we are also convinced that any philosophical theory in this area will be deeply unsatisfactory if it does not take into consideration the latest developments in the sciences, especially physics, psychology and neuroscience. While the proper relationship between the sciences and various disciplines of philosophy may be controversial – indeed, it is a persistent subject of debate – recent developments in the free will discussions may serve as a good model of the mutually beneficial cooperation between philosophy and several fields of science. Witness to this are philosophical interpretations of quantum indeterminism or of experimental results in psychology. A significant proportion of activities within our project will be devoted to such interdisciplinary aspects of our main topic.
The overall goal of our research is to contribute to our deeper understanding of what is involved in having free will by offering some new insights and arguments in the pertaining areas. The more specific goal of our project is to produce original contributions in some central areas of research into free will, in the following disciplines: metaphysics, philosophy of mind, ethics, history of philosophy, philosophy of physics, as well in philosophical interpretations of relevant results of psychology and neuroscience.
Research activities are grouped under five main headings:
1. Causality, laws of nature and luck;
2. Brain, mind and agency;
3. Moral responsibility;
4. Aristotelian perspective;
5. Free will, determinism and the quantum rescue.