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Philosophical zombies may lack a consciousness, but does this preclude the ability to have a free will? Why does consciousness matter, for agency, or at all, if determinism is real?

(I've framed the question, as such, to make room for more than a Hume answer to my inquiry.)

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    What is your specific definition of freewill? In my experience, questions like these are designed to create a razor sharp edge with which to cut a problem in to manageable pieces. For such razor sharp edges, crisp definitions of hard to define words like "freewill" are essential. I could give you two answers to this question, one unequivocal "yes" and one unequivocal "no," with the only difference between them being the definition of free will. Worse, those two definitions I would choose are empirically identical -- there is no way to develop an empirical test to differentiate them. – Cort Ammon May 6 '16 at 16:51
  • @Cort Ammon I'm not defining free will, more an exploration into various views which might solve this inquiry. I would say that free will, therefore, is at the heart of the discussion. I would like to know how various philosophers would respond to this issue, since it doesn't seem people discuss it in any length or framing. I would assume Hume would have little issue with saying a zombie had free will and, I would suspect, would say consciousness didn't matter because it was all deterministic anyway, but I am looking for more views. – NationWidePants May 6 '16 at 16:59
  • You might want to tag this reference-request then. It's a good topic to explore what others have said about it. It's a tricky topic to try to arrive at answers to. – Cort Ammon May 6 '16 at 19:01
  • i didn't really need or want a personal answer. it was a suggestion to edit the question to make it clearer ... now done for you. – virmaior May 9 '16 at 10:59
  • @Cort Ammon I didn't, at the time, think of this as a reference request, but I suppose you're correct. – NationWidePants May 11 '16 at 14:11
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Chalmers runs a (semi-serious) site Zombies on the Web with lots of (serious) references, where he makes a 3-way distinction:

Hollywood zombies. These are found in zombie B-movies...

Haitian zombies. These are found in the voodoo (or vodou) tradition in Haiti. Their defining feature seems to be that they lack free will, and perhaps lack a soul...

Philosophical zombies. These are found in philosophical articles on consciousness. Their defining features is that they lack conscious experience, but are behaviorally (and often physically) identical to normal humans.

...One might make the case that philosophical and Hollywood zombies lack free will and are thus a sort of Haitian zombie, although both claims would be controversial. In any case, many believe that Hollywood zombies are a sort of corruption of Haitian zombies.

Free will can manifest without consciousness on modern understanding of volition in both compatibilist (with determinism) and libertarian (without determinism) accounts. This attitude is relatively new however, and motivated by the rise of the philosophy of the unconscious, first in the works of Schopenhauer, Hartmann and Nietzsche, and later in Freud's psychoanalysis; Wittgensteinian and Heideggerian critiques of the rationalist view of action (the rule-following regress and the "embodied-embedded" approach); and recent neuroscience experiments (e.g. Libet's), which showed that people often can not accurately time formation of their "intentions", or even "fill them in" after the fact. See the review How Does Neuroscience Affect Our Conception of Volition? by Roskies.

In hindsight, it seems implausible that every letter in a voluntarily said sentence is separately "willed", and therefore that exercise of will requires awareness. But traditionally it was a very common philosophical position, aligned with "common sense", which is still implicitly or explicitly held by many rationalist philosophers and scientists (including Libet himself). In modern accounts conscious and unconscious wills are usually explicitly distinguished.

To summarize, unless one makes a question begging definition that free will is conscious will there is no logical connection between will and consciousness in either direction. Compatibilists describe how deterministic creatures can be conscious, and anti-conceptualists describe how non-conscious creatures can will. For more discussion and references see What counters are there to Spinoza's argument that acts of free will create infinite regress?

  • I can't answer this question directly, I don't have an refs, but doesn't freewill require a first person perspective and therefore cannot be had by P-zombies? – Alexander S King May 6 '16 at 20:05
  • @Alexander See edit on Chalmers. I am inclined to sidestep P-zombie case because what they are consists entirely of stipulations made by philosophers for themselves. What I had in mind more is something like animals, especially low-level animals, where we have little reason to suspect self-awareness but "free will" appears to manifest analogously to many human actions, assuming one sees it even there. Schopenhauer even considered inanimate objects to be individuations of the World Will, but that seems to dilute the concept to a point of vacuity. – Conifold May 6 '16 at 21:56
  • "unless one makes a question begging definition that free will is conscious will" I disagree that this is a question begging definition. If will doesn't have to be conscious, then what prevents us from making statements like "The rock wants to fall down the hill" and "The wave is trying to reach the shore"? Additionally, it's common to think of victims of people acting under hypnosis, sever psychosis or psychoactive chemicals to be acting to things other than their freewill. Tying freewill and consciousness seems intuitive. – Alexander S King May 10 '16 at 20:14
  • @Alexander It is question begging because it is unclear if even the paradigmatic examples of free will in humans fall under it. Also psychotics and people under the influence of (most) psychotropic drugs remain conscious even as their volition is severely impaired. But generally intuition is not a defense against begging the question, Descartes and others thought that immateriality of souls was intuitive too. Intuition needs to be cashed into an argument, and apparent ways of doing that are blocked by the rule-following regress and other objections to rationalizing actions. – Conifold May 11 '16 at 1:05
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    I actually find the discussion of free-will and P-Zombies, as @Alexander makes, to be related enough that I like to plow through that topic rather than sidestep it =) I find they're a useful tool for approaching any trait in the form of "I axiomatically state I have this trait, and I state that these other things (like rocks) lack this trait, and it should be intuitively obvious to everybody where the dividing line is." While P-zombies originally were purposed to do this for consciousness, I find the same constructions are useful for exploring the questions of what the words "free will" mean. – Cort Ammon May 11 '16 at 14:36

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