Degrees of Freedom and Responsibility: How Consciousness Impinges on Action


I sketch a more-or-less compatibilist solution to the free will/determinism problem, defining free will as that which an agent must exhibit in order to be legitimately held accountable for his/her actions. Based on this definition it would seem that, judging by fairly widespread social conventions, free will consists in a series of capacities, such as the ability to respond rationally to information. I argue that these capacities are not undermined by the potential truth of universal determinism, but I would like. not to settle for a compatibilism that stops at the recognition of that fact. After all, why should we feel obliged to reconcile our free will with metaphysical determinism? I argue that the deterministic character of the universe is not so much a discovery that has been made by scientists as it is a methodological presupposition that is mandatory for doing science in the first place. With that in mind, determinism is, at its core, an epistemic notion and not an ontological one. My guiding idea is that free will exists insofar as it is a category mistake to conceive of the futures of intentional systems (like human beings) as facts of nature. I take "nature" to be that which is the subject of scientific research and therefore necessarily objective, where a fact's being objective consists in it being the way it is regardless of what anyone thinks about it. The future of any individual does not meet these criteria (that is, it is not a fact of nature) because one's future (unlike, say, the chemical composition of water) is not something that is the way it is regardless of what one thinks about it. We form different attitudes toward different futures and these attitudes contribute to our behavior. Since "deterministic" is a property predicated of events in nature, it is a category mistake to apply the term outside of that domain.

Thesis Completion



Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)


College of Arts and Humanities

Degree Program








Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access


Document Type

Honors in the Major Thesis

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