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Conscious Will and ResponsibilityA Tribute to Benjamin Libet$
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Walter Sinnott-Armstrong and Lynn Nadel

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195381641

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195381641.001.0001

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Lessons from Libet

Lessons from Libet

(p.235) Chapter 19 Lessons from Libet
Conscious Will and Responsibility

Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

The real question that Libet's experiments raise is whether our conscious wills cause the willed actions. What is at issue is the effects rather than the causes of conscious will. The question is whether conscious will is impotent, not whether it is free. If conscious will is impotent, then we cannot control our actions by means of conscious will, and this disability might reduce our freedom of action. Libet's experiments raises or sharpens this new question. By raising a new issue in a new way, Libet's work made (and continues to make) many people rethink their assumptions. The assumptions at stake are both normative and descriptive. The relevant normative assumption is, roughly, that causation by conscious will is necessary for responsibility. The descriptive assumption that Libet questions is, again roughly, that conscious will causes the willed action. This chapter addresses these assumptions in turn. It concludes that Libet's experiments do not undermine responsibility in general, but they do illuminate some particular cases as well as common standards of responsibility.

Keywords:   Benjamin Libet, moral responsibility, legal responsibility, conscious will, causation

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