Bioethics Blogs

Why People’s Beliefs about Free Will Matter: Introducing the Free Will Inventory

*Editor’s note: Jason Shepard was one of Emory Neuroethics Program’s inaugural graduate Neuroethics Scholars. His co-authored manuscript mentioned below is related to his Scholar’s project.

Recently, the question of whether our notions of free will, along with whether our responsibility-holding practices that appear to be based on free will, can survive in light of discoveries from the behavioral and brain sciences was named as one of the Top Ten Philosophical Issues of the 21st Century. The interest in free will and how discoveries in neuroscience and psychology affect our beliefs and attitudes about free will extends well beyond the halls of philosophy departments. The topic has also attracted a lot of interest from neuroscientists, biologists, and psychologists [1]. And, of course, these very debates are of central interest to neuroethicists. The wide range of interests in these debates is a symptom of the fact that these debates matter: The debate over what people believe about free will and how discoveries in the behavioral and brain sciences might impact these beliefs matter for a wide range of theoretical, and perhaps more importantly, practical reasons. Much of the empirical research in this area also points to the need for a valid and reliable tool for measuring people’s beliefs about free will. Below, I touch on some of the reasons why people’s belief in free will matters, and I introduce a new tool for measuring beliefs about free will, the Free Will Inventory, which was published in this month’s issue of Consciousness and Cognition [2].

The free will inventory is available in this month’s issue of Consciousness and Cognition.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.