The aim of this project is twofold: 1) to evaluate whether contemporary models relating to voluntary action problematize or confirm free will. And 2) To reconceptualize free will in light of ‘the problem of luck’
The primary hypothesis is that free will requires the capacity of recursive decision-making (decisions that restructure the motivational hierarchy of the agent) and that the problem of luck is unsolvable. As a consequence freedom is best understood as a graded phenomenon.

Keywords: Free will, nature of the will, agency, volition, autonomy, neurophilosophy, emergence, metacognition, action control, intentional action, intention, reasons and causes, cognition, executive control, executive functions, cognitive control, control and uncertainty, problem of luck.


The question of free will is one of the most enticing and controversial philosophical questions. At times people display great potential for self-directed change, but at the same time we frequently fail to follow through on our own decisions. To what extend are people able to determine their own character and behavior? How can we make sense of human agency and free will in light of our scientific insights? The hypothesis of this project is that a reconceptualization of free will as something graded can solve some of the philosophical puzzles of free will and undo the perceived conflict between philosophy and a scientifically informed picture of agency.

At this stage we are:

Testing which of the many philosophical concepts best correspond to every day people’s intuitions of free will

Proposing that free will comes in many different degrees corresponding to differences in cognitive processes and their integration in the decision-making process of the agent

Arguing against interpreting scientific models within a framework of ontological determinism

Examining how an intuitive hierarchy of motives and their differing influence on an agent’s actions can be translated to scientific mechanisms and hypotheses

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Mark Carstensen
Mark W. Carstensen

Project Lead