The Folk Psychology of Free Will: Fits and Starts


  • I would like to thank the teachers, parents, and children of the N.E. Miles Early Childhood Development Center at the College of Charleston. Thanks to Hilary Martin, Sara Martell, and Emily Askey for assistance in data collection. Many thanks to Trisha Folds-Bennett for help getting subjects and pilot data for experiment 2. I would also like to thank John Doris, Larry Krasnoff, Heidi Maibom, Eddy Nahmias, Philip Robbins, Eric Schwitzgebel, two anonymous referees and an editor at Mind & Language for helpful comments on an earlier draft.

*Department of Philosophy, College of Charleston, Charleston, SC 29424, USA.


Abstract:  According to agent-causal accounts of free will, agents have the capacity to cause actions, and for a given action, an agent could have done otherwise. This paper uses existing results and presents experimental evidence to argue that young children deploy a notion of agent-causation. If young children do have such a notion, however, it remains quite unclear how they acquire it. Several possible acquisition stories are canvassed, including the possibility that the notion of agent-causation develops from a prior notion of obligation. Finally, the paper sets out how this work might illuminate the philosophical problem of free will.