About this Research Topic
By posing new potential threats to the notions of free will and intentional agency, recent discoveries in psychology and neuroscience have reset the agenda of a debate traditionally dominated by the issue of determinism. The hallmark of the present discussion is the attempt to reconcile the claim that consciousness must play a role in causing human behaviour with a naturalistic understanding of how cognitive processes unfold.
In this light, epiphenomenalism is the thesis that seemingly causally relevant conscious processes, such as intention formation or decisions, do not play any active causal role in the production of the correspondent action. If this were the case, the subjective sense of causing and controlling events in the external world through our actions might turn out to be deceptive. Furthermore, research in cognitive and social psychology have highlighted that apparent rational choices are often the result of automatic, non-intelligent, processes accompanied by little cognitive elaboration. Overall, these results cast doubt on the individual ability to introspect upon conscious mental states and to act on them.
Beyond its theoretical interest, the articulation of the dynamics between mental causation and free will spawns important ethical and societal issues, regarding responsibility for action and the capacity to control one’s own behaviour. The proposed Research Topic aims to stimulate a rigorous cross-disciplinary discussion on these issues. Core research questions include the following:
What kind of dependence is to be stipulated between free will, intentions, and the conscious mind? How do people control their own behaviour and how could the phenomenology of agency be explained? Are the above challenges authentically new and what is the contribution that theoretical and empirical disciplines can respectively bring to the debate? Is epiphenomenalism virtually entailed by the state-of-the-art empirical knowledge about how the brain causes human behaviour? What is the role and what is the reliability of introspective processes? Is the concept of free will inescapably linked to an anti-naturalistic understanding of the relationship between the mind and the body?
We encourage contributions that approach these issues from different methodologies and perspectives, including psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy.
Keywords: free will, intentional agency, action, mental causation, epiphenomenalism, consciousness, control, phenomenology of agency, introspection
Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.