When I read most discussions about free will, it seems that there is an implicit unspoken assumption that might not be accurate once it is brought forward and addressed explicitly. We know from research (and for me, from some personal experiences) that we make decisions before we are consciously aware that we have made that decision. The discussions about free will all seem to assume that one of the necessary conditions of free will is that we be aware that we are exercising it, in order to have it. (sorry if I did not phrase that very well). In other words, if we are not consciously aware that we are exercising free will in the moment that we are making a decision, then it is assumed that we do not have free will, merely because of that absence of conscious awareness. Suppose we do have free will, and we exercise it without being consciously aware that we are doing so at that particular moment. That might merely be an artifact that either we are using our awareness to do something that requires concentration. Only later do we then use our awareness to reflect on what we just did.

Part of the problem with this debate is that it's not always clear what's really at issue. Take the experiments in which subjects are asked to "freely" choose when to push a button and we discover that the movement began before the subject was aware of any urge to act. The conclusion is supposed to be that the movement was not in response to a conscious act of willing and so wasn't an act of free will. But the proper response seems to be "Who cares?" What's behind our worries about free will has more or less nothing to do with the situation of the subjects in Libet's experiment.

Think about someone who's trying to make up their mind about something serious—maybe whether to take a job or go to grad school. Suppose it's clear that the person is appropriately sensitive to reasons, able to reconsider in the light of relevant evidence and so on. There may not even be any clear moment we can point to and say that's when the decision was actually made. I'd guess that if most of us thought about it, we'd conclude that for many important decisions, we eventually just found ourselves thinking in a certain way at some point. We noticed or realized that our views had settled down. And yet it may be clear that in spite of this, conscious reason and reflection were part of the process out of which the decision eventually percolated and that we can offer reasons that we're willing to endorse for our decision. Put another way, it may be clear that our decision is one that an informed but disinterested third party would see as the fitting outcome of a process of reasonable deliberation.

It seems plausible to me that at least some of the time, what we decide fits this description. This emphatically includes the kinds of decisions where we might be most interested in whether something worth calling "free will" was at work. But cases like this are so different from what Libet's experiments studied that it seems bizarre to think of them as addressing the same concept. In any case, if our important decisions by and large fit this description, then for it's very unclear (to me at least) what more in the way of "free will" is left to care about.

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