Santa Fe Institute

Is Free Will an Illusion? What Can Cognitive Science Tell Us?

by Daniel Dennett
May 14, 2014
Serious thinkers contend that free will cannot exist in a deterministic universe -- one in which events are the singular outcomes of the conditions in which they occur. The alternative view, that free will is prerequisite for personal responsibility and morality, is the basis of our legal and religious institutions. Philosopher Daniel Dennett unravels this conundrum and asks whether we must jettison one of these notions, or whether they can co-exist. He then asks: if free will is an illusion, as many scientists say, should we conclude that we don't need real free will to be responsible for our actions?