Home > Determinism, Philosophy > Spinoza on Perceived Free Will

Spinoza on Perceived Free Will

November 17, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

So experience itself, no less clearly than reason, teaches that men believe themselves free because they are conscious of their own actions, and ignorant of the causes by which they are determined.

-Baruch Spinoza, The Ethics

  1. November 17, 2012 at 5:17 PM

    Reblogged this on Untimely Discourses.

    • November 17, 2012 at 5:24 PM

      Glad you like the quote! It is from Part III, Proposition 2 of the Ethics.

      • November 17, 2012 at 5:29 PM

        You’re welcome. Interesting subject freewill. Most people seem to believe in it yet reason would suggest that it does not exist.

  2. November 17, 2012 at 6:05 PM

    Amazing how well Spinoza picks out the reason behind our belief in free will. After a few generations an a half century if experiment on the matter, he seems to be spot on. I totally missed the significance of this line when I read his Ethics. It’s interesting how so much time and money can be spent doing neuroscience research only to find out something that seems right by experience.

    Great share.

    • Shinya Kunida
      April 25, 2013 at 11:41 PM

      Actually, a neuroscientist named Tse just came out with a book called ‘The neural basis of free will: criterial causation,’ that argues that the neural code is very different than people have thought it to be. He comes to the conclusion that a kind of free will is in fact instantiated in neural activity, going against Libet. He goes beyond this to take on the question of mental causation more generally. It is quite an astonishing set of insights about the brain.

      • April 26, 2013 at 11:54 AM

        Hi Shinya,

        Thanks for checking out my blog! I’ve not heard of Tse’s book but I will be sure to check it out this summer. While I can’t speak to his specific findings or data, what I’ve taken away from my graduate work is that we mustn’t be too hasty in drawing robust philosophical conclusions from empirical studies. While I, clearly, am quite guilty of this (just check out some of my earlier posts!) I am very glad that free will has taken center stage in many areas of psychology and neuroscience. A book you might want to check out as a possible counterpoint from the area of psychology is Daniel Wegner’s The Illusion of Conscious Will. There are also a number of robust responses to his work by folks like E. Nahmias and Tim Bayne (among many others). Cheers!

        P.S. I just remembered that Sean Spence has a book entitled The Actor’s Brain: Exploring the Cognitive Neuroscience of Free Will that is pretty good (although it is from 2009 so may be slightly dated in terms of cutting edge research).

      • April 26, 2013 at 12:06 PM

        Thanks for sharing this Shinya! I have not heard of Tse.

        It seems that Tse would not only have to go against Libet but mainstream neuroscience and cognitive neuroscience as it stands since they still accept bereitschafts (readiness potential) as proxies for “intentions to act”—dating back to Kornhuber and Deecke 1965. And if he is going against this mainstream, I wonder how his peers view the work. Are there reviews of this book?

        Do not get me wrong, I have been suspicious of this interpretation of readiness potentials. I have actually been hoping to find some time to look over the arguments that RPs should count as “intentions.” Alas, grad school owns my schedule.

  3. B. Oliver
    May 2, 2013 at 5:41 PM

    May be relevant, this paper just came out in Experimental Brain Research (2013) in which the authors, a combination of philosophers and neuroscientists including Tse, doubt the relevance of RPs to issues of conscious will. So yes, it would appear that some neuroscientists are advocating a reevaluation of the meaning of Libet’s findings.

    “Barking up the wrong free: readiness potentials reflect processes independent of conscious will.” Experimental Brain Research (2013). Schlegel A, Alexander P, Sinnott-Armstrong W, Roskies A, Tse PU, Wheatley T.

  4. June 2, 2014 at 5:20 PM

    Thanks B. Oliver! I am checking out that paper in 3….2….

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