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Mortimer Adler
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Thomas Aquinas
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Roderick Chisholm
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Antonella Corradini
Diodorus Cronus
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John Dupré
John Earman
Laura Waddell Ekstrom
Herbert Feigl
John Martin Fischer
Owen Flanagan
Luciano Floridi
Philippa Foot
Alfred Fouilleé
Harry Frankfurt
Richard L. Franklin
Michael Frede
Gottlob Frege
Peter Geach
Edmund Gettier
Carl Ginet
Alvin Goldman
Nicholas St. John Green
H.Paul Grice
Ian Hacking
Ishtiyaque Haji
Stuart Hampshire
Sam Harris
William Hasker
Georg W.F. Hegel
Martin Heidegger
Thomas Hobbes
David Hodgson
Shadsworth Hodgson
Baron d'Holbach
Ted Honderich
Pamela Huby
David Hume
Ferenc Huoranszki
William James
Lord Kames
Robert Kane
Immanuel Kant
Tomis Kapitan
Jaegwon Kim
William King
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Keith Lehrer
Gottfried Leibniz
Michael Levin
George Henry Lewes
David Lewis
Peter Lipton
C. Lloyd Morgan
John Locke
Michael Lockwood
E. Jonathan Lowe
John R. Lucas
Alasdair MacIntyre
Ruth Barcan Marcus
James Martineau
Storrs McCall
Hugh McCann
Colin McGinn
Michael McKenna
Brian McLaughlin
John McTaggart
Paul E. Meehl
Uwe Meixner
Alfred Mele
Trenton Merricks
John Stuart Mill
Dickinson Miller
Thomas Nagel
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Galen Strawson
Peter Strawson
Eleonore Stump
Francisco Suárez
Richard Taylor
Kevin Timpe
Mark Twain
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G.H. von Wright
David Foster Wallace
R. Jay Wallace
Ted Warfield
Roy Weatherford
William Whewell
Alfred North Whitehead
David Widerker
David Wiggins
Bernard Williams
Timothy Williamson
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Susan Wolf


Michael Arbib
Bernard Baars
Gregory Bateson
John S. Bell
Charles Bennett
Ludwig von Bertalanffy
Susan Blackmore
Margaret Boden
David Bohm
Niels Bohr
Ludwig Boltzmann
Emile Borel
Max Born
Satyendra Nath Bose
Walther Bothe
Hans Briegel
Leon Brillouin
Stephen Brush
Henry Thomas Buckle
S. H. Burbury
Donald Campbell
Anthony Cashmore
Eric Chaisson
Jean-Pierre Changeux
Arthur Holly Compton
John Conway
John Cramer
E. P. Culverwell
Charles Darwin
Terrence Deacon
Lüder Deecke
Louis de Broglie
Max Delbrück
Abraham de Moivre
Paul Dirac
Hans Driesch
John Eccles
Arthur Stanley Eddington
Paul Ehrenfest
Albert Einstein
Hugh Everett, III
Franz Exner
Richard Feynman
R. A. Fisher
Joseph Fourier
Lila Gatlin
Michael Gazzaniga
GianCarlo Ghirardi
J. Willard Gibbs
Nicolas Gisin
Paul Glimcher
Thomas Gold
Brian Goodwin
Joshua Greene
Jacques Hadamard
Patrick Haggard
Stuart Hameroff
Augustin Hamon
Sam Harris
Hyman Hartman
John-Dylan Haynes
Donald Hebb
Martin Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
John Herschel
Jesper Hoffmeyer
E. T. Jaynes
William Stanley Jevons
Roman Jakobson
Pascual Jordan
Ruth E. Kastner
Stuart Kauffman
Martin J. Klein
Simon Kochen
Hans Kornhuber
Stephen Kosslyn
Ladislav Kovàč
Rolf Landauer
Alfred Landé
Pierre-Simon Laplace
David Layzer
Benjamin Libet
Seth Lloyd
Hendrik Lorentz
Josef Loschmidt
Ernst Mach
Donald MacKay
Henry Margenau
James Clerk Maxwell
Ernst Mayr
John McCarthy
Ulrich Mohrhoff
Jacques Monod
Emmy Noether
Abraham Pais
Howard Pattee
Wolfgang Pauli
Massimo Pauri
Roger Penrose
Steven Pinker
Colin Pittendrigh
Max Planck
Susan Pockett
Henri Poincaré
Daniel Pollen
Ilya Prigogine
Hans Primas
Adolphe Quételet
Juan Roederer
Jerome Rothstein
David Ruelle
Erwin Schrödinger
Aaron Schurger
Claude Shannon
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Herbert Simon
Dean Keith Simonton
B. F. Skinner
Roger Sperry
John Stachel
Henry Stapp
Tom Stonier
Antoine Suarez
Leo Szilard
Max Tegmark
William Thomson (Kelvin)
Peter Tse
Vlatko Vedral
Heinz von Foerster
John von Neumann
John B. Watson
Daniel Wegner
Steven Weinberg
Paul A. Weiss
John Wheeler
Wilhelm Wien
Norbert Wiener
Eugene Wigner
E. O. Wilson
H. Dieter Zeh
Ernst Zermelo
Wojciech Zurek


Free Will
Mental Causation
James Symposium
David Hodgson

David Hodgson, in his 1991 book Mind Matters: Consciousness and Choice in a Quantum World, makes a case for the relevance of quantum mechanics to the workings of the mind.

Unfortunately, he follows Roger Penrose in invoking non-local quantum effects to explain how in the brain "all information can be instantaneously correlated" as "correlations which do exist between spatially separated quantum potentialities." (p. 388)

At one point, Hodgson offers a plausible model for alternative possibilities. "the brain—mind can be considered (consistently with the approach of cognitive psychology) as a mechanistic (though indeterministic) computer; but only in so far as it throws up alternatives for choice." (p.390)

Then he says very clearly (and mistakenly), "The choice itself, from a physical viewpoint, would appear as a random reduction of these possibilities." And again "The number of alternatives could be finite, if the possibilities are discrete; or infinite, if they are in a continuous spectrum. Each choice would appear as a random state reduction." (p.390)

On the other hand, we also find this apparent metaphysical/theological contradiction

"The choice does not in fact occur at random in accordance with some quantum probability: the apparent random occurrence of one alternative is simply the manifestation of the choice to the physical viewpoint. There is a striking statement in Wilber (1983) that 'the Heisenberg uncertainty principle represents all that is left of God's radical freedom on the physical plane' (p. 169); and that is substantially what I am saying about quantum indeterminism and human choice." (p.392)

In the 2002 Oxford Handbook of Free Will, Hodgson reviewed the many suggestions for incorporating indeterminism in free will models. He finds himself in agreement with Henry Stapp and Roger Penrose, both of whom appeal to "non-local" entanglement aspects of quantum mechanics.

Hodgson says he is "not an outright dualist" but says the brain-mind is a "physical-and-mental whole, whose causal properties are not captured by the physical aspect." (p.108)

He says his views are similar to those of Robert Kane, especially "that from the physical perspective, free will looks like chance, since from a physical perspective, there is just an indeterministic chaotic process with a probabilistic outcome, whereas experientially considered, the process is the agent's effort of will and the single outcome is the agent's choice.

Hodgson is comfortable that indeterminism in the brain could have a simple evolutionary explanation:

"if there were any ways in which quantum processes could be used to advantage in the brain, it is likely that evolution would have found them." (p.108)
And he has a fine appreciation of how much information processing in the brain goes on below the conscious level.
"Certainly, our brains perform staggering computations, outside consciousness, such as the preconscious calculations necessary to achieve three-dimensional vision and apparent stability of a viewed scene despite voluntary movements of head and eyes, and those necessary for walking on uneven ground and for catching balls. Compared with these nonconscious feats, our conscious efforts may in fact seem paltry: conscious performance of such tasks as simple mental arithmetic is clumsy and prone to error, conscious reasoning generally is riddled with fallacies and biases, and conscious awareness of a crisis can bring on irrational panic. One might therefore have expected that evolution, which has given us both our prodigious nonconscious computing capabilities and our fallible conscious processes, would have made sure that, for really important decisions, and especially in a crisis, our consciousness would be shut off, in order that our nonconscious processes could work away without interference to find the solution and give effect to it. Yet, as we know, the reverse is true. When faced with an important decision, and particularly in a crisis, our conscious attention is automatically brought to bear, so that we cannot help addressing the problem with full consciousness. This strongly suggests that something about our conscious processes gives them an advantage over wholly nonconscious computations, which cannot be explained in terms of algorithms that could be carried out unconsciously." (p.107)

In 2005, Hodgson published A Plain Person's Free Will. He addresses three broad areas:

(1) The randomness problem: how can there be an intelligible and plausible alternative to determinism that is not mere randomness? Cf. Smart (1961).

(2) The moral luck problem: we are products of genes and environment, so how can the way we are at any time and therefore the way we act be other than due to things outside our control, that is, be other than just a matter of luck? Cf. Strawson (1986, 1998, 2002).

(3) The supernaturalism problem: science has given us a successful and comprehensive naturalistic account of how the world works, so is it not unreasonable to propose that human beings are somehow outside this account and outside the causal order apparently demonstrated by this account?

(Journal of Consciousness Studies, vol. 12, no. 11, (2005) p.3)

In two of his "nine propositions" we can detect signs of a two-stage model. He says

1. The alternatives requirement: there is a pre-choice state such that the way the world is and the laws of nature leave open at least two post-choice states.
This requirement is intelligible, and is not implausible having regard to what quantum mechanics (QM) tells us about the world. Of course, there is the difficulty that, according to QM, any indeterminism is mere randomness, and I will return to this. And there is also the difficulty that QM indeterminism may be at scales of mass, distance and time such that it cannot account for macroscopic alternatives like doing or not doing an act, or deciding a question one way or another. (p.4)

5.The selection requirement: the subject makes an effective non-random selection between the available alternatives, based on these non-conclusive reasons, albeit not determined by rules or laws of nature.

The contrary position, that what is not wholly determined by initial conditions plus laws or rules must be random, is widely assumed but rarely examined. (p.7)
But in the end, Hodgson still maintains his 1991 view that (a non-physical?) consciousness provides the selection requirement in rational decision making, and that consciousness is beyond reductionist science.
Reductionist science has had enormous success in accounting for many aspects of the universe, but very little success in explaining consciousness and its role in the way events unfold in the world. I think it is reasonable to believe that consciousness does have an important and irreducible causal role, and I suggest that something like this version of free will is required to account for this role.

So all in all, I say my account is believable, indeed at present more so than any alternative. (p.19)

For Teachers
For Scholars
Outline of a Theory of Mind
(Chapter 16 of Mind Matters, 1991.
The initial interest in quantum mechanics as being relevant to the mind—matter problem concerned its indeterministic character, and the possible 'room' it could leave for freedom of the will. My discussion of quantum mechanics has confirmed its indeterministic character; and has also suggested that quantum mechanics shows that matter is ultimately 'non-material' and non-local, and (perhaps) that mind and matter are interdependent.

My basic hypothesis is that (consistently with some consensus views) mental events and associated physical events are (both of them) aspects or manifestations of the same (comprehensive) events of the brain—mind, with some discoverable correlations between them; but that (contrary to consensus views):

  1. . just as the macroscopic physical events of neural firings are manifestations of micro events of the quantum world, so also mental events are related more directly to those quantum events than to the neural firings themselves;

  2. . even the best objective description of the events as physical events (that is, in their objective character), comprehending all the insights of quantum theory, cannot account for all the properties of mental events, in particular all their causal properties; and

  3. . the best description of the events as mental events (that is, in their subjective character) must use the language and concepts of folk psychology, which can, of course, be improved and refined.

16.1. Brain, Mind, and Quantum Reality

On this approach, mind and brain are both manifestations of the same underlying reality. Mind can to some extent be said to be a function of the brain, but only if the brain here is understood not as the detectable macroscopic object, but as the quantum reality underlying both this object and the mental events of consciousness. Mind and brain are two manifestations of, and viewpoints towards, a single reality; but with important differences, in particular in relation to the development over time of this reality and (specifically) the causes and explanations of such development.

Quantum physics confirms that the world, uninterpreted by the mind, can be considered as a cosmic code; but shows that the things that are detectable by us, and interpreted by us as the objects and events of our perception, are not the fine details of this code, but rather its gross statistical properties. This is true of the brain itself and of macroscopic events within the brain, considered as objects of perception. These macroscopic events (and their statistical properties) will, as a matter of fact, have extensive correlations with the mental events of subjective experience and action: however, my suggestion is that such mental events must relate more directly to the quantum level than to the macroscopic level of gross statistical properties, inter alia (1) because mental events seem to involve the instantaneous correlation of spatially separated physical events, and (2) because of the arguments against mechanism in Part II.

16.1.1. Elaboration of Conjecture

The general idea is not new. For example, in Barrett (1987) a similar idea is attributed to Leibniz, in the following terms: 'What we call body and what we call soul are abstractions, aspects of one unitary reality and process' (p. 26). However, its elaboration with reference to quantum physics is of recent origin.

One important difference between this conjecture and the consensus position lies in the denial that any identity between brain and mind can he adequately considered at the level of neurons and neural firings. My suggestion is that the mind is not a function of neurons and neural firings, but rather that both mental events and neural firings are 'functions' of the development of the underlying state of the brain.

Thus, I am conjecturing that there can be no adequate type—type identification between categories of mental events and categories of detectable macro physical events, whether in terms of functions or in terms of other properties, I suggest rather that, because of the common underlying substratum, there will be significant correlations between certain types of macro physical events (such as patterns of firings of neurons in the visual cortex) and certain types of mental events (such as perception of particular shapes and colours) but that these correlations will not amount to type—type identities. in particular, even if patterns could be artificially created which apparently have the same functional role as do the natural patterns in a neural network, and apparently have the same other relevant properties as do such natural patterns, the same types of mental events will not occur unless (at least) appropriate developments of quantum states also occur.

To give a crude analogy. If one plays a videotape of a person speaking, one has a correlation between the moving picture and the sound of the worth spoken. However, this is because both are manifestations of the underlying substratum of the videotape, the video machine, and the television set. There is no type—type identity between the picture and the sound; and clearly one can occur without the other.

Thus, as regards my seeing my red pen, I suggest that the standard account in terms of light reflected from the pen's surface entering my eyes, an image formed on the retinas giving rise to electrical—chemical signals to my brain, and further electrical—chemical signals in neurons of the cortex, is inadequate to ground a satisfactory account of the mental events involved, inter alia because it is not the most complete and fundamental account of the physical events involved.

If it were possible to give it, the most complete and fundamental account of the physical events would comprehend the time development of combined quantum physical states; but the complexity of the many-particle systems involved is such as to make such an account a practical impossibility. In fact, at eacb stage of the process, up to the stage of events within the cortex, the developments of the quantum physical states are such that indeterminacies, interference effects, EPR correlations, and suchlike quantum physical properties make no detectable difference to what happens; so that an account in terms of classical physics, perhaps with some quantum mechanical trimmings, is quite adequate.

At the stage of events within the cortex, however, I suggest that an account in terms of classical physics is substantially inadequate, if one wishes to explain the mental events involved. A description in terms of macroscopic matter and events is not only insufficient: it is also possibly misleading, inter alia in suggesting a gulf between the physical and the mental. In order to identify the physical types with the best correlation to mental events, it is necessary to go to the quantum level.

I will support this hypothesis in Section 16.2 with reference to the arguments of Part II, by attempting to show how it conforms to the anti-mechanistic arguments of that part, while at the same time maintaining consistency with physical causation and also giving appropriate scope to cognitive psychology. However, in the remainder of this section, I will support it primarily by reference to another important aspect of quantum reality, namely non-locality. For the most part, in this chapter I do not rely on the suggestion that quantum physics shows that matter is dependent on mind; although clearly, if this is the case, it would strongly support my general approach.

16.1.2. Non-locality

In my view, a very strong indication of the close relationship between mental events and the development of quantum physical states is the element of non-locality in both. This can be considered under a number of headings.

1. Extension of relevant macroscopic physical events. Single or unified mental events have some association with (at least roughly) simultaneous macroscopic neural firings occurring in specific, but spatially extended and even separate, regions of the brain. What would be considered a single, coherent, apparently unified, and indivisible conscious experience is associated with a pattern of physical events which are substantially contemporaneous and spatially extended.

For example, perception of an object involves events in the brain associated with detection of many features of the appearance of the object, and with recognition of (and consequent beliefs about) the object: such events must involve many neurons and accordingly some spatial extension. This must be so even when what one perceives is as simple as (say) a red circle. Subjectively, the perception of an object is a unified experience, which at any instant of time includes detection of many features of the object's appearance together with beliefs about what the object is. Somehow, it would seem, the subjective experience has to take in, all at once and non-sequentially, contributions from extended and perhaps separate regions of the brain. In general, every experience–action involves physical brain events extending in space, including some at least of the following: sensation events, cognition events, other association events (involving memory and understanding), affective events (appreciation, enjoyment, pain, emotion), and action events. All of these events are associated with signals passing round the brain at less than the speed of light, yet apparently may be combined nonsequentially in association with a unified conscious experience–action.

2. The unity of conscious experience. As noted in the previous point, a conscious experience appears to be unified, to comprise many aspects presented all at once, to embrace many features which must be contributed to by events spanning appreciable space. Not only does a complete experience appear to be present to consciousness at each instant, but also changes to different aspects of that experience appear similarly to be simultaneously present to consciousness, together with the remainder of the experience con. tinning unchanged. If I am watching a moving object, I see its movement and the still background at the same time.

It may be said that this is explained by short-term memory: different aspects of experience only seem to be present at the one time, since some of them are there merely due to short-term memory. Indeed, the so-called specious present (or psychological present) of experience appears to span time as illustrated by the recognition of a melody involving successive notes, However, this just restates the problem: any contribution to experience from short-term memory is itself part of, the experience, and is itself associated with many neuron events in spatially extended portions of the brain.

Similarly, when a decision or choice is made, or action is done, it seems to be based on many aspects of the experience giving rise to it. An evaluation of a work of art, for example, is based on many features of the work, and Indeed (at least in difficult cases) one tries to' hold many of its features in the forefront of one's mind, all at once, as the basis for a judgement. The features so held and assessed must be associated with many separated neuron events in the brain: yet they all seem to contribute simultaneously to the decision. The point is similar to some of the views on informal reasoning made in Part II, but it is made here with a different objective: in so far as informal reasoning involves assessing wholes, it seems to require simultaneous awareness of such wholes and their constituent parts or aspects, notwithstanding that such parts or aspects are associated with spatially separated physical events.

3. The non-locality of mental events. Thus I suggest that mental events bring together, non-sequentially, elements associated with spatially separated physical events, and that in that respect they are indifferent to spatial separation. This indifference to spatial separation is also supported by the apparent non-locality of the mental events themselves. I recall the point made in Section 2.4 that visual perception, for example, seems to place images in space around an observer, with the experiences–subject being placed, if anywhere, behind the eyes of the person in question.

4. The non-locality of quantum states. All the above suggests that mental events somehow span space, so as to enable simultaneous experiencing of, and acting upon, matters associated with spatially separated physical events. As noted in the previous chapter, indifference to spatial separation is shown by quantum states: indeed, consistently with the theory of relativity, there can be (instantaneous) correlations effected between spacelike separated events only in the quantum world, that is, in the world of potentialities comprised in quantum states. The existence of EPR correlations between such states, and also the non-local correlations of probabilities associated with any 'collapse' of a quantum state, show that to some extent quantum states are indifferent to spatial separation, in a way which (consistently with the theory of relativity) macroscopic physical events cannot be.

These considerations, it seems to me, make it plausible to associate mental events closely with the quantum physical states manifested by brain events. Such a view proposes an answer to a question suggested by the non-local character of quantum states, as shown by Bell's theorem. Question (as put in Herbert 1986: 44): 'Why . . . does nature need to deploy a faster-than-light subatomic reality to keep up merely light-speed macroscopic appearances?' Answer: to make possible consciousness and mental events.

16.1.3. Previous Views

The point that conscious mental events apparently correspond to spatially separated physical events in the brain has been remarked upon previously. It is instructive to consider some examples of how it has been dealt with.

1 . Kohler. An early consideration of the point is found in Kohler (1961):

It seems to me that in requiring fast interactions, this exposition understates the problem: any causal interaction, however fast, involves temporal sequence; yet the relationship between different aspects of a visual experience (such as the shape and colour of the object seen) is such that they apparently combine without temporal order.

Of course, the above passage was written before Bell devised his theorem, and well before the non-local properties of quantum physics were established by experiment. Hence it is perhaps not surprising that Kohler chose the electric field as the medium for correlating events in separate parts of the brain. However, leaving aside quantum physical non-locality, events in one part of the electric field can be detected in another part of the field only by means of perturbations spreading at no greater than the speed of light. We know now that spatially separated events can be correlated instantaneously, or non-locally, at the quantum level; so that if different aspects of (say) a visual experience are indeed present non-sequentially to consciousness, it seems reasonable to invoke quantum non-locality to explain this.

2. Barlow. A more recent approach to the problem is found in Barlow (1985):

The solution proposed here seems to be to the effect that non-topographic mapping could bring all the information together to 'one region'. However, even then this one region would have to involve huge numbers of events in huge numbers of cells, with some spatial separation; and the problem remains of combining all these events non-sequentially in a single experience. Again, the proposed solution of quantum non-locality seems preferable.

3. Wolf and Schumacher. The suggestion that_ quantum non-locality has something to do with the operations of the mind is to be found in Wolf (1984) and Schumacher (1986). I find Wolf's writing obscure; while Schumacher seems to be suggesting that vision involves quantum correlations not only within the brain, but also incorporating the eye and the thing seen as well. Schumacher may be correct if the measurement-by-consciousness solution to the measurement problem of quantum mechanics is correct; but my argument is not limited to this: it is directed essentially to quantum correlations which are entirely within the brain.

16.1.4. Comparison with the Computer

My approach may be considered by comparing the operation of a computer. In a computer, its 'knowledge' or 'awareness' of any substantial information comprises many states and/or events in spatially separated parts of the computer in which such information is encoded: any operation which uses such information requires causal input (transmitted at no more than the speed of light) involving all of such separate locations. There is no need to postulate, and (I suggest) no good reason to believe in, any subjective aspect of the computer which can know or be aware of all such information (from the states or events in various locations in the computer); and, in particular, know or be aware at the same time of changes to different parts of that information in different locations in the computer. The time required to co-ordinate information and changes in information in different locations in a computer may be measured in millionths of seconds: but such co-ordination can never be instantaneous and non-sequential. On the other hand, it seems to be the case that in the brain there can, via conscious experience, be instantaneous knowledge of (and two-way correlation between) events in distant parts of the brain.

For a decision to be based on all available information, such information must be co-ordinated, either in stages or all at once. A computer achieves this in stages by cause and effect. This is perhaps most obvious in relation to a Turing machine, where the different pieces of (coded) information are correlated by steps dictated by the information itself and by the organization of the machine; but the Name applies to any computer, including one with parallel processing. The consequence of the correlation of such information can only then be used for computation or displayed in output.

However, if in the brain all information can be instantaneously correlated, so that (for example) data X and data Y, and changes occurring in each, are together present, then this data can be used all at once to base action. Indeed, if, as I contend, conscious experience makes an irreducible difference, then the whole experience must enter into the causal order at whatever location or locations in the brain the choice becomes manifest; and for this to happen its parts and their correlations must be simultaneously effective, so that each part can simultaneously contribute to the one action or decision. And this in turn suggests the instantaneous correlations which do exist between spatially separated quantum potentialities.

In this discussion of computers, I am referring to computers as we know them now, which do not operate with quantum physical correlations or indeterminacies. In Deutsch (1985) there appears a description of an idealized quantum computer, which could mix together quantum states in ways that have no classical analogues; although Deutsch does not suggest that it could operate non-algorithmically. Perhaps our brains–minds are such 'machines', but I would say with the difference that they can operate non-algorithmically.

16.1.5. Summary

In short, then, I suggest an association between mental events and the development of quantum states, because the content of consciousness has properties, corresponding to spatially separated events, which are nevertheless present together; and because this 'togetherness' is not plausibly regarded as macroscopic cause and effect connecting the separated events, but is plausibly regarded as associated with the sort of correlation between distant events which exists in quantum states. I am not asserting that the unity of conscious experience is provided specifically by EPR correlations, or indeed any particular kind of quantum non-locality; merely that quantum states have this property of non-locality in various respects, and this general property seems to be what is necessary to explain the unity of consciousness.

Hodgson is hopeful that his hypothesis provides a theory of conscious choice - the beginnings of an account of freedom of the will.

16.2 Conscious Choice

The other main support for my hypothesis is that it can provide a plausible theory of conscious choice: it can accommodate the anti-mechanism arguments of Part II, and at the same time accept many of the ideas of cognitive psychology; it can accept that from the physical viewpoint the brain is a physical object operating in accordance with physical laws, that from the mental viewpoint a person can make rational indeterministic choices, and that no contradiction or conflict is involved; and it makes possible an account of choice which gives an appropriate role to our elaborate brains, and does not postulate some ghostly entity which, without the assistance of the brain, makes the real decisions.

16.2.1. General Account

I do not seek to infer a theory of choice from quantum indeterminism: at best, quantum indeterminism makes room for such a theory. Rather, I approach it this way.

A brain—mind (or a person) is a physical—mental object. Its behaviour seems to be determined to some extent by mental events, choices based on beliefs, desires, etc.; and to some extent by physical events, the objective brain processes of neural firings, etc.

The success of the objective sciences suggests that the behaviour of this object might be completely determined by the physical events, so that the apparent determinative role of the mental events either is illusory or else simply coincides with the role of physical events. This gives rise to the project of abstracting the measurable physical properties of the object, and seeking quantitative physical laws of nature which are sufficient, together with the measurable physical properties, to determine the behaviour.

However, when that project is pursued to the limit, it becomes clear that the physical properties and laws are not sufficient to determine completely the behaviour of the brain—mind, because of quantum indeterminism. It may still be possible to exclude independent mental determination, however, by showing that quantum indeterminism has no significant impact on the behaviour of the brain—mind: for example, by showing that the firing of neurons cannot be affected by quantum indeterminism, or by success in cognitive psychology and/or artificial intelligence research in accounting for all purposive behaviour. This has not been done, so one may reasonably believe on the basis of the arguments of Part II that mental events do have an independent determinative role in behaviour.

An account can be given of how this could work, as follows.

1. Cognitive psychology and choice. The brain—mind can be regarded from a physical viewpoint and a mental viewpoint.

From the physical viewpoint, it can be considered as a macroscopic object, operating in accordance with laws appropriate to such objects; and for many purposes that will give a sufficient approximation to the true position. However, in cases where conscious subjective choices are being made (that is, all cases of conscious decision and action), I suggest that an adequate physical account of the brain would have regard to quantum mechanical effects. Even then, however, I suggest that the physical account could not, even in principle, predict or explain which choice is made: it would at most show the alternatives and their respective probabilities. So, the brain—mind can be considered (consistently with the approach of cognitive psychology) as a mechanistic (though indeterministic) computer; but only in so far as it throws up alternatives for choice.

Where, for example, a choice involved determining the application of a word whose meaning could encompass a range or spectrum, the identification of the range and of probabilities within that range could be achieved mechanistically: it may be an operation of the kind undertaken by the 'fuzzy logic' programs mentioned earlier. It could take account of many factors bearing on the appropriateness of various alternatives within the spectrum.

Hodgson appears to make chance the direct cause of action
Ultimately, this mechanistic process could provide a range (either continuous or discrete) of possibilities, with probabilities within that range: rather like the range shown by a quantum physical state function for observables such as position and momentum. The choice itself, from a physical viewpoint, would appear as a random reduction of these possibilities.

There could be a similar process in relation to any and all of the conscious choices which we make. The process could be of great complexity, having regard to the number of neurons and connections in the brain: and choices could arise at many stages of dealing with a particular problem. The general point is that computational procedures plus quantum physics would seem appropriate to give rise to probability-weighted alternatives. The number of alternatives could be finite, if the possibilities are discrete; or infinite, if they are in a continuous spectrum. Each choice would appear as a random state reduction.

From the mental viewpoint, there would be little if any consciousness of the computer-like processing which gives rise to the alternatives. There would be some consciousness of alternatives (even if only the alternatives of doing something and not doing it), and consciousness of vaguely weighted considerations for and/or against each alternative: these considerations may be felt as various kinds and degrees of inclination and aversion, of obligation and inhibition, and so on. The felt weight of the considerations, the mental effort required to give effect to one set of considerations rather than another, and the difficulty of coming to a decision, may perhaps be related to the probabilities indicated by the quantum physical viewpoint.

However, on my suggested approach, any prior weighting of the considerations is associated only with probabilities, and does not determine the choice: it is only the conscious choice which determines which considerations prevail in the particular case, and thereby precisely determines their weighting inter se. A somewhat similar idea was proposed in Nozick (1981) using the analogy of quantum mechanical measurement:

Consistently with my discussion of plausible reasoning in Chapter 5, I contend that rational decisions are indeed like this: they give effect to rational considerations in ways which cannot be formalized, and which are accordingly not mechanistic or predetermined. They are fallible, but may have a probability of being correct greater than the mechanistic probability suggested by the physical viewpoint.

2. An objection. A possible difficulty for this kind of approach is raised in Nagel (1986):

That seems reasonable, at first blush; but I suggest it is fundamentally incorrect. I do not deny that one can look for further explanations in such formative causes; and these could either be mechanistic physical explanations or plausible explanations involving mental terms. However, I strongly disagree that without such further explanation there is no answer to the question of explanation posed by Nagel. If one accepts the rationality of plausible reasoning, as contended in Chapter 5, then one must accept that there can be reasoning to a rationally based conclusion which is not compelled by its premisses; and that other conclusions may be less rational, or even irrational, although not excluded by the premisses or indeed by any weighing of commensurable reasons. (By 'less rational', I am suggesting a qualitative rather than a quantitative judgement.) In that sense, a complete explanation of action can be given, without any need to go to 'formative causes' of one's character. Nagel's point is good only if one rejects the rationality of plausible reasoning and says, with Hume and others, that it is only a matter of useful habit selected by evolution; and that approach, as I have suggested, undermines all reason and all knowledge.

My disagreement here with Nagel is close to the heart of the whole problem. His unstated assumption is that an explanation must either be conclusive (and so algorithmic, mechanistic, etc.) or else no explanation at all; whereas our whole experience of reasoning and acting is to the contrary, as I have tried to show in Chapter 5. It is of the nature of most of our justifications and explanations of action that they are not conclusive — but, nevertheless, they may be rational, and different ones may be less rational, or irrational. The pervasiveness of the mechanistic assumption made by Nagel has led, I believe, to mistakes such as that of Swinburne noted in Section 5.6; and also to endeavours such as that of Kane (1985) to find free will in randomness rather than rational choice.

3. The relationship to quantum probabilities. The hypothesis of a close association of mental events with the time development of quantum physical states of the brain suggests a natural explanation of the difference we feel between experiencing and doing. Quantum physics identifies two kinds of time development: the deterministic development of such states in accordance with the relevant rules of motion, notably Schrodinger's equation, and the sudden partly unpredictable changes which occur upon state reduction. Actions, including decisions and choices, may be identified with certain developments of the second kind, in which possibilities thrown up by previous time development are eliminated. Prior to any particular action, this action was possible (with a probability calculable in principle from the prior quantum state), as were alternative actions. The occurrence of one action, rather than any of the alternatives, would be, from an objective physical point of view, random. However, from the subjective mental point of view, it could be chosen.

On this approach, the quantum physical probabilities of the alternatives may be related to the consciously felt weight of competing reasons for the different actions. Where the alternative which occurs is an action which was objectively highly probable, one might have a case of an action with small 'mental input', an action done virtually by habit or as of course. Where the alternative which occurs is an action which was objectively improbable, perhaps one could have a case of concentration, effort, the exercise of 'willpower'. Where a decision has to be made between alternatives of objectively similar probability, perhaps the weighing, judgemental aspect of decision making is especially exercised.

The choice does not in fact occur at random in accordance with some quantum probability: the apparent random occurrence of one alternative is simply the manifestation of the choice to the physical viewpoint. There is a striking statement in Wilber (1983) that 'the Heisenberg uncertainty principle represents all that is left of God's radical freedom on the physical plane' (p. 169); and that is substantially what I am saying about quantum indeterminism and human choice. Penrose (1989: 431) appears to overlook this approach when he questions whether random state reduction can have anything to do with freedom.

In similar vein, there is a reference in Gomes (1978: 450) to an argument by Schrodinger to the effect that quantum physics is in fact inconsistent with free choices being made between superposed alternatives of quantum states, because those free choices could violate the statistical predictions of quantum physics. Even if this were correct, it would not be conclusive: it could simply mean that, when choices are made, the 'known' as represented in the relevant state function is not all there is to know, because there is a mental element involved which cannot be so represented. In any event, the argument seems to overlook that every choice is a unique event: each person is unique, and a matter for choice cannot be precisely one which has previously faced the same person (that would itself be a difference!). Accordingly, the quantum physical superposition of alternatives corresponding to each choice must itself be a single unique highly complicated quantum state; so that there never could be a series of like state reductions in which statistical effects could be disclosed. In my view, the linking of quantum probabilities to the felt strength of reasons is very plausible.

16.2.2. What Chooses, and How?

How, then, does this approach deal with what I have suggested to be a problem of dualist approaches such as that of Eccles; that is, the postulation of some immaterial entity which makes the real decisions, using some other faculty apart from the human brain?

On my approach, the human brain viewed purely as a physical object, even a quantum physical object, does not choose (or explain the choice) between the alternatives which it throws up for decision. However, the human brain at the macro level is a manifestation of the underlying reality described by the corresponding quantum physical state function, which reality is also manifested in the subjective world of consciousness. So, both the chooser and a faculty by which the choice is made can be located in just this same underlying reality. As stated earlier, the most complete objective physical description of this reality (if it could be given) would be in terms of a multi-particle quantum physical state; while the best subjective description would be in terms of the language of folk psychology (which can, of course, be progressively refined and improved). This reality, in its subjective manifestation, does comprehend the choice, and also explain it, to the greatest extent that an explanation can be given.

Looked at subjectively, the reality appears to consist of both a subject and the experiences–actions of which the subject is conscious. One cannot separate out the subject from this combination: as noted in Section 2.5, mental events involve the interdependent existence of both an experiencer–actor and the experience–action. Indeed, as noted there, it seems that one may with equal justification regard either the subject as the substance to which the experience–action is adjectival, or vice versa.

In either case, one may in general terms regard the subject, this experiencer–actor, as being what makes the choices; and one may regard the quantum reality underlying both physical and mental events as providing the faculty for making these choices. I do not contend that the experiencer–actor is, necessarily a continuing unchanging self, much less an immortal soul. Indeed, as discussed further in Section 16.3, it may be that the conscious self, which each of us takes to he a single experiences-doer, is some sort of combination of many such entities; and it may be that there are many such entities ('conscious subsystems') associated with each of us, whose experiences and actions are not always fully integrated into those of the self-conscious being each of us takes himself or herself to be.

Thus, on my approach, one could suggest that a decision or action is partly the result of physical mechanistic causes, and partly the result of choices between alternatives left open by those causes. However, one would normally not mix objective and subjective viewpoints in this way; and it would generally be difficult or impossible in practice to identify the choices. One would normally take either an objective approach, and say that the decision or action is caused by physical laws operating upon physical events, in the sense of being the outcome of deterministic developments plus random steps; or alternatively take a subjective approach, and say that the decision or action is made or done for reasons. From either viewpoint, the decision or action could have been otherwise. On the objective approach, the random steps could have been other than they turned out to be. On the subjective approach, the reasons are not conclusive, and the person acting could have weighed them differently.

In this way, one has the beginnings of an account of freedom of the will. To develop such an account, it is necessary in particular to consider in more detail problems pertaining to the self, which will be pursued in the next section and in Chapter 17.

David Hodgson was invited by the Journal of Consciousness Studies to provide an account of his theories and they invited responses from other philosophers.

(Journal of Consciousness Studies, 2005, 12(1))

journal web page:

In my experience, plain persons (here meaning persons who are neither philosophers or cognitive scientists) tend to accept something like a libertarian position on free will, namely that free will exists and is inconsistent with determinism.That position is widely debunked by philosophers and cognitive scientists.My view at present is that something like this plain person’s position is not only defensible but is likely to be closer to the truth than opposing views. To put this to the test, I have written a simple and straightforward outline of what I hope is a philosophically and scientifically respectable version of the plain person’s position on free will, and have offered it for demolition by those who say such a view is untenable.

My account of free will is a robust one, explicitly inconsistent with determinism and intended to support equally robust views of personal responsibility for conduct. I see three broad areas of difficulty for this account.

(1) The randomness problem: how can there be an intelligible and plausible alternative to determinism that is not mere randomness? Cf. Smart (1961).

(2) The moral luck problem: we are products of genes and environment, so how can the way we are at any time and therefore the way we act be other than due to things outside our control, that is, be other than just a matter of luck? Cf. Strawson (1986, 1998, 2002).

(3) The supernaturalism problem: science has given us a successful and comprehensive naturalistic account of how the world works, so is it not unreasonable to propose that human beings are somehow outside this account and outside the causal order apparently demonstrated by this account?

I address these difficulties in this article.


I will proceed by asserting and explaining nine propositions.I see the first five as basic requirements for any intelligible account of indeterministic free will; while the remainder are further explanations and elaborations of my own particular account of free will and responsibility.All these propositions have some relevance to each of the three problems I have identified; but propositions 3 to 5 are particularly relevant to the randomness problem, propositions 5 and 7 to 9 are particularly relevant to the moral luck problem, and propositions 5 and 6 are particularly relevant to the supernaturalism problem.

1. The alternatives requirement: there is a pre-choice state such that the way the world is and the laws of nature leave open at least two post-choice states.

This is a minimum requirement for indeterministic free will.There must be a time before an exercise of free will by the doing of an action (or the making of some other choice or decision) when the action (or result of the choice or decision) is not uniquely pre-determined by the way the world then is and the laws of nature. There must be alternatives available: they may be the alternatives of two actions such as pushing button A and pushing button B; or of doing something and not doing it; or of shaping an action in one way and shaping it in another way. I say that the alternatives may also be the alternatives of making one judgment as to what to believe and making a different judgment, because I say that free will is exercised in making decisions or appraisals of this kind as well as in doing actions.

here is the standard Randomness Objection to free will

This requirement is intelligible, and is not implausible having regard to what quantum mechanics (QM) tells us about the world. Of course, there is the difficulty that, according to QM, any indeterminism is mere randomness, and I will return to this. And there is also the difficulty that QM indeterminism may be at scales of mass, distance and time such that it cannot account for macroscopic alternatives like doing or not doing an act, or deciding a question one way or another.

This second difficulty does not affect intelligibility, and the degree to which it affects plausibility is a matter of controversy: I will not consider it in detail here. However, there are plausible suggestions as to how QM indeterminacy and indeterminism (perhaps together with chaos theory) could give rise to macroscopic alternatives:see Stapp (1998), Penrose (1994), Eccles (1994), and Jibu and Yasue (1995).

It is not part of this requirement that the alternatives be equally open, or that there be a sudden jump from a single pre-choice state to a single post-choice state.In some or even all cases, there could be a period of transition in which the likelihood of all but one possibility is progressively reduced to zero; and there may sometimes be extended processes of decision-making in which the likelihood of the various possibilities fluctuates significantly:see Hodgson (1999).

2. The consciousness requirement: the transition from the pre-choice state to a single post-choice state is a conscious process, involving the interdependent existence of a subject and contents of consciousness.

This associates the exercise of free will with consciousness, and adopts a view of consciousness as involving the interdependent existence of a self or subject and contents of consciousness (cf. Honderich 1987), with the subject taken as continuing as the same subject throughout the process of transition from the pre-choice state to the post-choice state. I will later argue that the subject in fact continues longer than this; but I do not contend, and my account does not require, that it be a ‘substance’ distinct from the brain processes that support it, much less an immortal soul. My account is rather a dual-aspect account of physical processes and conscious processes, with the subject being considered as the bearer or experiencer of the contents of consciousness.

The contents of consciousness may be generally described as experiences, but should not be considered as limited to passive contents: it is essential to an account of free will that subjects be considered as capable of being active, and this activity must presumably be reflected in the contents of consciousness. Again, this is intelligible and plausible:indeed, it is widely accepted that voluntary behaviour is active conscious behaviour.

However, some have argued that experiments by Benjamin Libet (Libet et al 1983) demonstrate that the real decisions are made pre-consciously, so that conscious free will can be no more than an illusion. In these experiments, participants were asked to press a button at any time they wished and to note the time of deciding to do so; and neural preparations for the action were recorded as occurring some tens of seconds before the time noted by the participants as the time of deciding to push the button. But it should be recognised that these experiments are applicable only to one kind of choice, namely that between doing and not doing an action; and even in relation to that kind of choice, show no more than that unconscious preparation is required before a person has immediately available the alternatives of consciously doing or not doing an action; and that is neither surprising nor inconsistent with conscious free will.

In specifying this requirement, I am not suggesting that all our motivation is conscious: plainly this is not the case. Nor am I suggesting that consciousness is other than a matter of degree:I am content to adopt the ‘dimmer-switch’ view of consciousness advocated by Susan Greenfield (1999).

And I do not think I am succumbing to the myth of the homunculus in the Cartesian theatre (Dennett 1991, Part II). Daniel Dennett convincingly refutes the idea that there is a central headquarters in the brain where consciousness occurs; but my proposition does suppose that there is. I accept that the physical processes that correlate with conscious mental processes occur over spatially extended regions of the brain, but this by no means precludes the existence or causal efficacy of conscious processes involving the interdependent existence of a subject and contents of consciousness. In so far as Dennett’s rejection of the Cartesian theatre suggests the contrary, this depends on an assumption that causation must be local, as required by classical relativistic physics, an assumption which has been decisively undermined by QM (see Hodgson 1996, 2002a).

3. The grasping requirement: in this conscious transition process, the subject grasps the availability of alternatives and knows-how to select one of them.

Again, this is a minimum requirement for free will. For example, if the choice between doing or refraining from doing an action is to be considered an exercise of free will, the subject must to some minimum extent grasp the possibility of either doing an action or not doing it, and must know-how to do the action and also know-how to refrain from doing it. This again is intelligible and plausible.

Once we have learnt to control our bodily movements, we are during consciousness generally aware that we can make various movements or not make them, and we know-how to make them or not make them. This requirement accords with the Libet experiments mentioned above, namely that there must in general be non-conscious preparation before the choice process starts: it is plausible that there could not be conscious grasping of available alternatives unless this has been made possible by some preparation that must be largely unconscious.

In previous writings I have suggested that free will can also be exercised in the shaping of bodily movements, as distinct from their initiation. For example, when a pianist performs a well-learnt piece of music, consciousness comes too late to direct fingers the right keys, but not too late to make choices in the shaping of musical passages. In such a case, I suggest, the pianist grasps the possibility of shaping the music in a particular way, and also is at least faintly aware of the possibility of shaping it in another way or else not consciously shaping it at all, and knows-how to select either alternative; and thereby can respond consciously, and I would say freely, to sounds heard and emotions felt. This is part of the reason for the intense concentration that musicians report to be a requirement for their performances.

In those cases where we are faced with a choice or decision to be made between two or more explicitly-presented alternatives, whether they be alternative actions or alternative beliefs or appraisals, this requirement will plainly be satisfied.

4.The reasons requirement: in significant exercises of free will, the subject experiences reasons on which a selection can be based, reasons that are non-conclusive and thus can influence but not dictate the selection.

I suggest that in significant choices we are consciously aware of experiences, thoughts (including thoughts in which we attend to beliefs), and/or feelings, that provide reasons, generally inconclusive and often conflicting, for one or more of the available alternatives. As mentioned earlier, I do not suggest that all our motivation is consciously experienced, much less that it is all consciously understood by us:plainly, much of our motivation is unconscious, and even the reasons of which we are conscious have a basis in extensive non-conscious processing. However, we do become consciously aware of feelings like pain or hunger, and of ‘somatic markers’ (to use a phrase from Damasio 1996) associated with different alternatives, and also of beliefs and experiences relevant to our choices; and it seems that we are motivated by these feelings, beliefs and experiences.

It is plain that such feelings and other reasons are of diverse kinds, generally not measurable, and generally incommensurable. There is, for example, no common scale on which hunger for food can be measured against a feeling of obligation to carry out a promised task. That is one reason why it is a mistake to suggest that we act according to the preponderance of our desires:  desires are not like forces in Newtonian physics that are commensurable and so can be combined to produce a resultant force.In general, the reasons experienced by a subject and relevant to a decision to be made by the subject do not dictate a conclusion. As I put it in Hodgson (1999), the reasons do not include a clincher; and as John Searle put it in Searle (2001), there is a gap between the reasons and the conclusion.The only clincher is the choice itself.

I cannot exclude the possibility that a choice between apparently incommensurable reasons is in fact wholly determined by unconscious processes, which are identical with physical processes that are in turn determined by measurable and commensurable physical properties and laws of nature; but the existence of that possibility does not justify disregard of this alternative account I am giving, or show that it is not intelligible and plausible.

5.The selection requirement: the subject makes an effective non-random selection between the available alternatives, based on these non-conclusive reasons, albeit not determined by rules or laws of nature.

This is a vital proposition, one that is necessary to overcome the alleged dichotomy of determinism and randomness. It is a proposition which I’ve been advocating since 1991, following ideas of Nozick (1981) and Putnam (1983) (see for example Hodgson 1991 Ch. 5, and particularly Hodgson 1999), but which is still generally overlooked. If it is true, it is of enormous significance, inter alia in that it would show how different human beings are from computing machines as presently understood, no matter how powerful such machines may be or become. The contrary position, that what is not wholly determined by initial conditions plus laws or rules must be random, is widely assumed but rarely examined. It is considered with some care in Strawson (1986), but my opposing arguments remain unanswered.

It is convenient to consider first those exercises of free will involved in deciding between competing hypotheses or appraisals on the basis of inconclusive evidence. What is often overlooked is that, apart from rules of reasoning such as those of mathematics, logic, and probability theory, there are no known rules (that is, strict rules as distinct from non-conclusive heuristics) governing good plausible reasoning.Of course, it is possible that plausible reasoning proceeds in accordance with evolution-selected computation-like procedures that we do not understand, and undoubtedly this is part of the story (I would say, that part concerning the determination of alternatives, reasons and tendencies); but there are powerful arguments for thinking that it is not the whole story, and that there is an element of judgment in plausible reasoning that is not accounted for by strict rules of any kind. These arguments include the following:

(1) If choices were in fact determined by algorithms, such as evolution-selected computation-like procedures, which as algorithms need no help from conscious judgment and could indeed be hindered by conscious interference, there could be no plausible explanation of why evolution selected in favour of brains that, at considerable expense in terms of complexity and energy-use, support conscious processes.

(2) In particular, there could in that event be no plausible explanation (a) of why we have feelings like pain to motivate us, when it would be absurd (even if possible) to use pain or any other feelings to motivate a computer to proceed in accordance with its program; or (b) of why are we so constituted that our conscious awareness is automatically called into play when we are faced with a novel situation calling for decisive action.

(3) Our rationality is well adapted to dealing with problems remote from the evolutionary tests that faced our evolutionary ancestors, and this makes it unlikely that it is no more than a matter of useful algorithmic processes selected through those tests: see Nagel (1986, p. 79).

(4) If we cannot rely on our plausible reasoning as the conscious non-algorithmic process that we instinctively take it to be, then any confidence that we could have in it would have to depend on the circumstance that it comprises computation-like processes whose reliability is assured by the evolutionary tests they have passed; yet any belief in this circumstance and accordingly any justified confidence would itself depend on extensive plausible reasoning, giving rise to a vicious circle:cf. Plantinga (1993, Ch. 12), Nagel (1997, Ch. 7).

(5) When we are conscious, our brain processes give rise to qualia (experiences or potential experiences) of various types and chunk them into unique particular global experiences of particular subjects:these are what I have called two tricks of consciousness, the qualia trick and the chunking trick (Hodgson 2002b). If a particular subject/experience combination produced by these tricks is to have a causal role in what happens, otherwise than through its general properties whose existence does not require this combination of tricks, then, because of the uniqueness and particularity of the subject/experience, this role cannot be one determined by generally applicable rules or laws of nature.Yet it seems clear that a particular gestalt or global experience, for example an experience of a unique and unprecedented work of art like Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by the artist when he created it or an early appraiser of the work, does have a role in aesthetic judgments, a role that is part of rational appraisal yet which cannot be rule-governed because there can be no general rules that engage with a particular subject’s particular global experience of a unique unprecedented object (see Hodgson 2001, 2002b).1

This fifth argument applies to judgments as to what to believe as well as to aesthetic appraisals. In deciding what to believe on the basis of uncertain evidence, we seem to take into account our assessments of whole particular gestalt experiences; yet these experiences cannot, as unique and particular wholes, engage with general rules.For example, in deciding whether an experience is an accurate experience of some aspect of the world or is some kind of illusion or otherwise inaccurate, we take into account the particular global experience, and have regard to its clarity, immediacy, vividness, internal coherence, coherence with accepted beliefs, relevant similarities to experiences accepted as real, and so on.

In such cases, I suggest, the outcome is not completely determined by the pre-choice state plus rules or laws of nature, but by a process that depends in part on a particular subject’s non-algorithmic response to a whole particular experience. It is not reasonable to think that the outcome in such cases is either merely random or the result of some unique constraint that engages with the unique pre-choice state and no other: it is more plausible to think that it is the result of an indeterministic but non-random selection.

Roger Penrose (1994) has argued strongly for the view that human intelligence involves understanding of a kind that computers lack. My contention is that our access to and ability to use particular global experiences in a way that rules cannot determine is an important part of what is required for this understanding.

Similar arguments apply also to decisions about what to do, as well as about what to believe. What I suggest is that the ability of a conscious subject to take into account whole particular gestalt experiences, and to act upon judgments based on inconclusive reasons, has been selected by evolution just because it is more conducive to actions favourable to survival and reproduction than are purely algorithmic processes.

All this is confirmed by the powerful and ineradicable feeling we have that we are consciously making choices and making things happen by doing them. Suggestions, such as that by Crick (1994, p. 266), to the effect that we have this feeling just because we are not aware of the unconscious processes that are actually efficacious, provide no reason why any feeling of choosing or doing would be involved if this were the case. It would be as if I simply became aware of a thought and a movement of my body in accordance with that thought, without actually making a choice or doing an action. If this happened, surely I would not have any feeling of choosing or doing:  rather, I would be puzzled by such an occurrence, in the same sort of way that the talking hemisphere of a split brain patient is puzzled by bodily movements initiated by the non-talking hemisphere

This fifth proposition is probably the most crucial and difficult of my nine propositions. It is difficult, because we are so accustomed to looking for reductionist explanations, in particular explanations in terms of law-governed processes, and because in all fields apart from those involving questions about consciousness, reductionist explanations have been spectacularly successful. But while acceptance of this fifth proposition may go against the grain, I would argue that nothing is more familiar to us than our non-algorithmic plausible reasoning, which we can understand, to some extent at least, without making the reductionist assumption that it is no more than a small part of a wholly algorithmic iceberg that somehow gives rise to the misleading illusion that the processes of its conscious tip are rational but non-algorithmic.

Indeed, unless and until there were to be some other explanation of why we have conscious experiences and of what is their causal role, and also a satisfactory account of plausible reasoning in terms of algorithms, an account that altogether dispenses with judgments based on feelings and particular gestalts, I believe acceptance of this fifth proposition is more reasonable than its rejection.

Before leaving this proposition, I should note one significant attempt to give an evolutionary explanation of conscious experiences and their causal role, notwithstanding an assumption that they are constituted by and/or wholly depend upon computational algorithms carried out by our brains (see for example Dennett 2003). This is to the effect that there have been evolutionary advantages for human beings and their close evolutionary ancestors in being able to monitor and communicate some of their own mental processes. Because these processes are too complex at the level of the computational algorithms (or any more basic level) to be grasped for monitoring or communication, evolutionary selection has developed brains able to produce simplified ‘user-friendly’ accounts of these processes, in terms of the existence of an integrated conscious subject or self that has conscious experiences, has goals and purposes, and chooses between available alternatives. These accounts are not exactly false, on this approach, because at the level at which our brains can grasp their own processes for monitoring and communication, they give about the best available approximation to the truth; but they are not exactly true either, in that they tend to suggest that the brain’s processes are other than the working out of computational algorithms, and to that extent they are false or at least misleading.

To anyone who strongly adheres to the view that our mental processes must be algorithmic, this approach may seem attractive. However, I think it has far too high a cost .A person’s agonising pain would be treated as an account of the person’s complex of dispositions to act in certain ways, produced by the person’s brain and thereby enabling the person to monitor and communicate relevant brain processes:it would have no other causal role, and in particular no efficacy in contributing to conduct by virtue of its subjective feel. Such a pain would be ‘felt’ no less by a Turing machine carrying out the same algorithms and thus producing the same account; whereas the brains of animals that do not monitor and/or communicate their mental processes would not produce such accounts, so that presumably those animals would not ‘feel’ pain even in this sense. I think pain has a reality, both as a feeling and as a motivator, that this approach denies; and I strongly disagree with the view (going back to Descartes) that no non-human animals feel any pain.

6. Naturalism: there is nothing supernatural and no violation of physical law involved in such selections.

A standard complaint about libertarianism is that it introduces a supernatural element in order to account for ‘contra-causal freedom’, and that it involves violation of physical law. However, as mentioned earlier, QM and chaos theory make it possible for there to be macroscopic alternatives for selection, and QM shows that causation can operate non-locally so that spatially extended conscious processes could be globally efficacious.

Even when these points are accepted, it is still argued that, unless in every case one of the alternatives that are possible according to QM occurs at random within the probability parameters established by the laws of QM, then physical law would be violated, in the sense that the statistical predictions of QM would be falsified. However, it is reasonable to think that the felt strength of reasons has some relationship to QM probabilities, so that selections are likely to approximate to QM statistics; and having regard to the uniqueness and complexity of pre-choice states, a demonstrated violation of QM statistical predictions is unlikely in the extreme (see Hodgson 1999).

More importantly, QM has not yet been applied to conscious systems, and it is an open question how its statistical predictions apply to such systems. The qualia trick and the chunking trick give rise to particular experiences of particular subjects; and if these whole particular experiences of particular subjects have an irreducible causal role in what happens, then, because of the uniqueness and particularity of the experiences and subjects, that causal role cannot be fully accounted for by any system of physical laws of general application, even those of QM. Indeed, my suggestion is that the capacity to respond to particular gestalts, to which rules cannot apply, has been selected by evolution just because this capacity is conducive to satisfactory choices and in that sense makes satisfactory choices more likely than they would be if choices occurred at random in accordance with QM statistics; so that, if it were possible to calculate them, the statistics of free choices would not be the same as if free will did not exist. This would not be a violation of physical law, but a limitation on the law’s applicability.

And this is not an appeal to the supernatural, but a recognition that the natural is not as narrow and limited as it is sometimes supposed to be; in particular, that it is not limited to the mechanistic development of systems in accordance with physical laws and randomness. I have previously argued (Hodgson 2001) that laws of nature may be of different kinds, in particular that there may, in addition to laws that constrain outcomes (C-laws), be laws that empower systems to direct or select outcomes (E-laws) and laws that guide systems in such selections (G-laws). I there suggested that E-laws provide systems such as human beings with both the capacity to make selections and the reasons on the basis of which selections are made; and that G-laws include moral principles that affect such selections.

On that approach, exercise of a capacity to select is not contra-causal, but in accordance with a wider concept of causation. And I do not suggest that the capacity to select appeared suddenly in human beings.Rather, I suggest it emerged very gradually in evolution along with the gradual emergence of consciousness.I believe that even primitive consciousness involves qualia and chunking, and may also involve the capacity to select.In primitive conscious systems, this might be exercised in such things as selecting in particular circumstances between getting food and avoiding predators. But I would not regard such capacity to select as amounting to free will unless and until combined with the self-conscious rationality of human beings.

7. Capacity to select:although differences between persons affect alternatives, reasons and tendencies, they do not otherwise affect capacity to select, which is the same for all persons.

It follows from the above that a person exercising free will does so subject to considerable pre-choice limitations. The person has no alternatives apart from those made available by the pre-choice state and grasped by the person in the process of selection.The person has no reasons apart from those presented by the pre-choice state, generally based on non-conscious processes; and those same processes largely determine how the reasons feel and appeal to the person, and also give rise to tendencies to act in various ways.Another aspect of the pre-choice state, for which the person can have no responsibility, is that the person has the capacity to make a selection between the alternatives on the basis of the reasons. But I suggest that nothing in the pre-choice state pre-determines the result of exercise of that capacity.

The totality of ‘the way a person is’, prior to the selection being made, is inconclusive as between the available alternatives: it gives rise to reasons and tendencies to act in one or other of the ways that are open, but does not pre-determine the outcome. Thus the person’s selection is influenced by the reasons and the tendencies, but not pre-determined by them. Indeed, it is reasonable to think that ‘the way a person is’, prior to the selection, does not affect the selection otherwise than through providing the alternatives, the reasons, the tendencies, and through the existence and exercise of the capacity to select.Different persons have different characters, and act differently because of these different characters. However, I am suggesting that this is because of the differences that pre-choice states make to alternatives, reasons, and tendencies, not because of any differences in the persons’ capacity to select. In relation this capacity, each person is entirely the same, unaffected by differences in pre-choice states, whether due to genes, environment, prior selections, or all three; and in relation to its exercise, to the extent that each person can notionally be considered apart from differences affecting alternatives, reasons and tendencies, each person is entirely the same.

Thomas Clark (1999, p. 286) has suggested that this approach makes the choosing subject an abstract entity devoid of character and motives.The reverse is the truth. The subject is the unique totality of all its properties, and it is precisely because this unique totality together with particular experiences enters into the causal process that outcomes are not predetermined by constituent properties which it may share in varying degrees with other entities and with which general laws can engage.

We can’t help having capacity to select, and nothing we can do at the time of selection can make us responsible for our particular characteristics that affect alternatives, reasons, and tendencies; but our particular characteristics do not otherwise affect the way we exercise our capacity to select. We do this by choosing which alternative occurs, thus providing the clincher; and there is an element (by which I do not mean a distinct or severable element) of this process that is entirely up to us, unaffected by any differences between different persons.And as asserted by the fifth proposition, this does not mean that the selection, or any part of it, is random or otherwise not rational.

8. Moral principles:to greater or lesser extents, persons grasp moral requirements that should guide selections.

It could be argued that, even if persons have the capacity to make selections, that does not make it fair to treat them well or badly because of selections they make, because this would pre-suppose some objectively valid and binding standards of behaviour, and an ability in persons generally to know these standards.But I suggest it is intelligible and plausible to say that there are such standards and that persons can to greater and lesser extents grasp them. I mentioned earlier my proposal in Hodgson (2001) for a classification of laws of nature so as to include G-laws, which guide systems in making selections from alternatives open to them.

As suggested there, the grasping of G-laws could begin with the emergence in evolution of conscious systems, having some marginal capacity and reason to select and bring about one future state of itself, among those left open by the C-laws, in circumstances where there was fuzziness or conflict in the disposition or motivation of such a system as to what state should occur.For example, suppose that such a system felt, in a primitive way, something like what we would feel as motivation to minimise the pain of an injury, and also something like what we would feel as motivation to satisfy hunger; and that it felt it could follow one feeling or the other, but that following one would preclude following the other (getting the food would exacerbate the pain).The system, having these conflicting feelings, and feeling itself motivated by them towards differing future states of itself, both of which were open to selection by it, could I suggest also feel something like a requirement to resolve them ‘rightly’, and to bring about one state of itself (that is, to act) in accordance with that resolution.

This suggests the most basic G-law, which would to some degree guide and be felt by even such a primitive conscious system, a law which I call ‘act rightly’:

Act so as ‘rightly’ to resolve fuzziness or conflicts of motivation.

I use ‘rightly’ at this stage without any moral implications, so that the law here simply means, do whichever of the conflicting possibilities is apt or fitting or appropriate or ‘to be done’.I say this law would be felt, because its guidance would, to some extent at least, take effect through its influence being felt and acted upon by the system itself.In more complex conscious systems, the basic G-law could come to separate out into two distinct aspects or sub-laws, which I call ‘decide rightly’ and ‘carry out’:

Decide what act would rightly resolve fuzziness or conflicts of motivation; and

Carry out that decision.

And in such systems, selections could be assisted by further G-laws and/or by principles associated with them.In particular, these systems could feel and apply a G-law, which I call ‘find out’:

Optimise the reasons (including information and feelings) on the basis of which to act.

In moderately primitive conscious systems, this could be felt as requiring attention to relevant information-and-feelings, as delivered by the senses and emotions.In more elaborate conscious systems, it could be felt as requiring such things as exploration of relevant information-and-feelings, verification by checking, looking for coherence and consistency, attending to analogies, and seeking an understanding of issues facing the system.

In conscious systems without the self-conscious rationality of human beings, the application of G-laws would not be a matter of morality, although analogies with human moral issues could be drawn.For example, some conflicts of motivation could be analogous to human moral conflicts, such as a conflict between an animal’s motivation to minimise its own pain and its motivation to protect its offspring; and some actions by animals may display ‘virtues’ of courage and determination in carrying out decisions as to what act would be ‘right’. However, in systems with self-conscious rationality, G-laws could have central moral significance.The basic G-law ‘act rightly’, as it applies to these systems, could be the fundamental moral prescription.Moral laws such as ‘do no harm’, ‘be fair’, ‘be honest’, ‘fulfil commitments’, and ‘do good’ could be further G-laws felt by these systems. Plainly, these further moral laws can conflict with each other, and they can also conflict with a system’s basic motivating feelings.

In such cases, the basic G-law would require the conscious systems to resolve conflicts rightly, having regard to all relevant G-laws.

Another G-law that a rational self-conscious system could feel is the following moral law, which I call ‘improve oneself’:

Enhance one’s own ability to find out, decide rightly, carry out, and do good.

This law would require the cultivation of virtues associated with the seeking of truth, particularly in so far as the truth was relevant to one’s own actions; and of virtues associated with readiness, willingness, and ability to put decisions rightly made into effect, and also to enlarge one’s opportunities to do good.

Thus, in systems with self-conscious rationality, the G-laws, which I conjecture are laws of nature that are to some degree felt by all conscious systems, could come to be felt as being or including a system of guiding moral laws, which are truly existing features of the universe, ascertainable, and to be respected by us whether we like it or not. Although such a view is very unfashionable today in some circles, some such view is required if, for example, an opinion that it is wrong to torture children for amusement is to be considered a matter of truth rather than merely something we have been programmed to believe by evolution and education. And there is no greater problem with saying that the truth of such moral rules can be supported by plausible reasoning than, for example, with saying that the truth of factual inductive conclusions can be supported by plausible reasoning.There could be disagreement as to what it is that G-laws require in particular circumstances, and as to what, among rules which people claim to be moral laws, are G-laws or rightly derived from G-laws and what are merely fallible human inventions; although I don’t think there would be much room for disagreement about the G-laws I have identified, most or all of which are I suggest to some extent grasped by all persons of reasonable mental capacity and sanity.

9. Ultimate responsibility: accordingly, there is some ultimate responsibility for selections, and thereby for subsequent pre-choice states.

On this account, then, persons generally have alternatives open to them in their conscious behaviour, and feel reasons for selecting among these alternatives, including reasons associated with their grasp of moral principles such as those discussed above. 'The way a person is' provides alternatives, reasons (including the grasp of moral principles), tendencies, and capacity to select, but does not otherwise influence the selection. Thus I suggest that, in making selections, persons do have some ultimate responsibility, with degrees of responsibility affected by how hard it is, by reason of the pre-choice state, to make the right selection. And I do accept that these degrees of responsibility may vary widely, so that, for example, environmental disadvantages such as abuse in childhood may enormously reduce responsibility and blameworthiness for later conduct.

I earlier suggested that subjects continue throughout processes of selection; and now I suggest that it is reasonable to see this continuance as indicative of a more extensive continuance, throughout longer periods of deliberation on problems, and indeed throughout a whole integrated life-history that can be regarded as a progressive and continuous addressing of life’s challenges (Hodgson 1999, 2001). A conscious system comes into existence at or prior to the birth of a human being and continues as a system with the same subject, at least until this continuance is interrupted or terminated by significant brain injury or mental illness, or death.Thus there can be justice in treating a person differently according to what that person has done in the past, not just because the person has some ultimate responsibility for what was done, but also because the person is in a substantial sense the same person both at the time of the action and at the time of the subsequent treatment.

Furthermore, since prior selections, for which a subject has some ultimate responsibility, can in turn affect later pre-choice states of the same subject, the subject has some ultimate responsibility also for those later pre-choice states and thereby additional responsibility for what is done at later times.


I will conclude this essay by considering three questions about the account of free will given in my nine propositions.

1.Does this account involve agent causation?

One prominent version of indeterministic free will embraces a distinction between what is called event causation and what is called agent causation.The former is causation by events or happenings in the world, which is the causation dealt with by the physical sciences; and the latter is causation by agents rather than events, which is the causation supposed to be involved in exercises of free will.

In one sense my account of free will involves causation by agents, in that I suggest that a subject or agent persists throughout a process of selection (indeed, generally throughout a life) and actually makes the selection on the basis of inconclusive reasons: as I have put it, in selection the agent provides the clincher that finally determines which alternative out of those open actually occurs. However, I do not draw a sharp distinction between causation by events and causation by agents.

For one thing, I do not say that causal processes not involving subjects or agents must be analysed in terms of events:analysis in terms of things or processes or states of affairs may be equally or more appropriate for certain purposes.I do not think it is helpful to debate whether the world really is made up of things or events or processes or states of affairs, or whether causation is really causation by things or events or processes or states of affairs.There are things and events and processes and states of affairs, and consideration of questions of causation may involve any one or more of these categories: none I suggest needs to be considered as being more basic than the others.

More importantly, I suggest that events do have an important role in exercises of free will. Events have a role at least in limiting available alternatives and in providing reasons and tendencies; and the selection itself can be regarded as an event. The causation of the selection might be considered as being partly by other events and partly by the activity of the conscious subject or agent exercising its capacity to select; but even that analysis could be misleading, in that I regard the selection process as a global process, not divisible into distinct parts.So rather than distinguishing causation by events and causation by agents, I prefer to distinguish physical causation, which is that aspect of causation capable of being fully understood in terms of the operation of laws of nature and randomness, and volitional causation, in which the conscious activity of a subject or agent makes a contribution that can’t be fully understood in that way.2

On my account, then, the nature and degree of responsibility of an agent for the agent’s conduct can be a matter for rational consideration; whereas on the standard ‘agent causation’ account, causation by agents seems to be mysterious, absolute, and incapable of further explanation.

2. Does this account deal with the randomness problem and the moral luck problem?

I mentioned earlier the randomness problem, the problem of making intelligible an alternative to determinism that is not mere randomness, and the problem of giving an intelligible answer to the moral luck argument.

The substantial answer to the randomness problem is that given in the discussion of the fifth proposition: but to see if the problem is really answered, it is useful to look at two elaborations of the problem given by Peter van Inwagen (2002).

In the first, van Inwagen supposes that God repeats many times a person’s pre-choice state, and that (as required by libertarianism) on some occasions the decision goes one way and on others it goes another way.He supposes that, as the repetitions continue, the statistics of the choices appear consistent with a certain probability for each decision.  He suggests that free choice is thus indistinguishable from random occurrences within probability parameters.

But as stated above, on my account of free will the statistics of many choices would not necessarily be the same as the statistics suggested by the laws of QM as applied to the pre-choice state that is repeated in this way, because the QM statistics would not take into account the subject’s particular gestalt experiences that are part of the pre-choice state. The subject’s selected response to the particular experiences is, for evolutionary reasons, more likely to be conducive to survival and reproduction than random occurrences within QM probability parameters,

In the second, van Inwagen supposes a choice between upholding public morality and betraying a friend on the one hand, and keeping silent on the other hand, in which the pre-choice state gives only just over 0.5 probability of keeping silent.Van Inwagen asks whether a person, knowing this probability, could in good conscience promise the friend to keep silent, when there is over 0.4 probability that the promise will not be kept.

On my account of free will, the probability given by the pre-choice state is at best a QM probability that does not take into account all relevant factors, including the particular gestalts of the pre-choice state; and in any event, the person will be able to freely choose what to do when the time comes.Furthermore, plainly the making of the promise will affect the pre-choice state, presumably making it more likely that what is promised will be done.But finally, if a person concluded that, even if the promise were made, he or she could not be confident of keeping the promise, that would be a strong reason for saying that the promise could not in good conscience be made.In this respect, libertarianism is in no worse case than competing views.

Turning to the moral luck argument, Galen Strawson elaborates on this argument in Strawson (2002), building on two premisses:

(1) We act as we do because of the way we are.

(2) We cannot be responsible (in the sense of ultimately responsible, the buck stopping with us) for the way we act unless we are responsible for the way we are.

And he goes on to argue that we cannot be responsible for the way we are when we first make decisions in life, so we cannot be responsible for actions based on those decisions, or for how those decisions and actions affect the way we are later on; and so on.Thus, we can never become responsible for the way we are later in life, or responsible for the way we act later in life.

He suggests that there can be no argument with his first premiss, and, relying partly on the first premiss, argues powerfully in support of the second premiss.

What I say to this is that it is necessary to bring out an ambiguity in the word ‘because’ in first premiss. It could mean that the way we are plus our circumstances plus the laws of nature pre-determine the way we act in those circumstances; and if it means that and is true, then it is hard to argue with the second premiss. However, on my account of free will, ‘because’ in the first premiss means that the way we are plus our circumstances plus laws of nature provide alternatives, inconclusive reasons, and tendencies, and also the capacity to select between the alternatives on the basis of the reasons; and what we do is what we select in exercise of that capacity, the selection not being influenced by any differentiating features of the way we are otherwise than through the alternatives, reasons, and tendencies. If the first premiss is true on that interpretation of ‘because’, the second premiss is untrue; and the Strawson argument collapses.3

3. Is this account believable?

As noted earlier, there is a question mark over the first proposition in terms of the availability of macroscopic alternatives.  The fifth proposition is difficult, but in my contention difficult mainly because of ingrained habits of thought; and for reasons I have given I believe it is reasonable to accept it at the present time. The eighth proposition is highly unfashionable; but I think that at least some moral opinions are matters of fact and truth rather than mere evolutionary artefacts, and thus that it is reasonable to accept my eighth proposition.

Reductionist science has had enormous success in accounting for many aspects of the universe, but very little success in explaining consciousness and its role in the way events unfold in the world. I think it is reasonable to believe that consciousness does have an important and irreducible causal role, and I suggest that something like this version of free will is required to account for this role.

So all in all, I say my account is believable, indeed at present more so than any alternative.


1. This argument, introduced in the first of these two articles and developed in the second of them, is I think an original and just possibly even an important argument. It is one of very few attempts to give a positive and non-mysterious account of why and how conscious processes can contribute to rational decision-making in a way not available to law-governed machines. I would refer readers to those articles, particularly the second of them, for a full exposition of this argument.

2. My view may be closer to the standard agent-causation view than is that of Robert Kane (1996), and it may be that Kane does not accept my fifth proposition.I think the criticism of Kane by Dennett (2003, Ch. 4) in fact, rightly or wrongly, assumes that Kane does not accept this proposition.

3. In his recent impressive exposition of a compatibilist view of free will and responsibility, Dennett (2003) does not refer to Galen Strawson or the moral luck argument.He does set out a related argument, along the following lines: what we do is wholly determined by events in the distant past and laws of nature; those events and laws are not ‘up to us’; therefore what we do is not up to us. He claims (pp. 126-36) that this argument commits the same fallacy as an argument that there couldn’t be mammals:if there have been any mammals, there have been only a finite number of them; every mammal has a mammal for a mother; therefore if there have been any mammals, there have been an infinite number of them. However, the fallacy in this argument is that there is an indeterminate boundary between mammal-like reptiles and reptile-like mammals; and while it may be said that there is a similar indeterminate boundary between actions in our early lives that are in no sense ‘up to us’ and actions in our later lives that are in some sense up to us, this does not deal with Strawson’s premisses (1) and (2) and thus does not answer Strawson’s moral luck argument.I suggest that something like my propositions 5 and 7 to 9 is required to answer that argument.


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