CFA: Conference on Free Will at UM-Flint

“Mankind has a free will; but it is free to milk cows and to build houses, nothing more.” — Martin Luther

“[M]en believe themselves free, simply because they are conscious of their actions, and unconscious of the causes whereby those actions are determined.” ― Baruch Spinoza

We have an intuitive sense of ourselves as free agents, capable of effectively controlling ourselves and altering the external world. We typically view ourselves as the cause of our actions, our thoughts, and our decisions. Yet, what reasons do we have to believe that we are free, or that at any moment we have the capacity to be free? The more we learn from physics, neurosciences, biology, medicine and psychology about how we and the world operate, the more it seems there is no room for a genuinely free will.

The theme should be interpreted broadly. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

•       What is a free will—is it a capacity, a “trying,” a choice, a decision, or something else?
•       Does having a free will give meaning to human life, to human existence, or can a human life be meaningful without believing in free will?
•       Is a capacity for a free will the reason humans have moral agency (assuming they do—which is, itself, a questionable assumption)? If a human lacks the capacity to will freely, does she lack moral agency? lack moral worth? lack moral personhood?
•       What are the social and cultural costs of assuming that moral culpability necessitates having free will?
•       Can neurological studies of decision-making processes provide insight into the notion of free will–why or why not?
•       Do all humans have free will at all moments of their life? What are the social, moral and/or legal implications if they do not? What policies do we have in place, or what policies should we have in place, to recognize and accommodate individuals with a temporarily or permanently diminished capacity to will freely?
•       Assuming that there is free will, do children have free will? Is free will a capacity that develops slowly (matures)? If so, what exactly is the nature of a partially developed or incompletely developed capacity for free will?
•       Is it possible to empirically verify whether or not any specific person at any moment has a free will?
•       Does it make sense to speak of will power or weakness of will? What exactly is a “weak” will?
•       What are the implications of being regarded as a person who has a weak will, or who wills defectively, or and/or pathologically?
•       The “insanity defense” rests on the notion that an individual’s act was not committed freely. In what sense can a psychiatric disorder compromise “free will”?
•       Does knowing the outcomes of a person’s choices mean that they do not have free will?
•       Do cognitively and/or learning impaired persons have free will? What moral complexities are raised in cases in which individuals have impairments?
•       Do certain social, cultural or legal conditions hamper free will? Do others foster free will? If so, how?

Submissions of abstracts (not exceeding 800 words) are invited for presentation of papers (not exceeding 3000 words). Please email your abstract as a Word.doc prepared for anonymous review. Please include your full contact information in the email only, including institutional affiliation. We welcome proposals for panels; if you wish to submit a panel proposal, send all the abstracts of the panel participants and biographical information in one email and clearly indicate your preference for participating in a panel. All submissions, either for papers or for panel presentations should be of previously non-published work.

We welcome submissions from a wide range of disciplines, including philosophy, the social sciences, critical studies (including gender and sexuality studies, disability studies, race studies, and critical legal theory…), law, education, linguistics, the neurosciences, and the pharmaceutical and medical sciences as well as other relevant disciplines and fields.

All submissions should be sent to the review coordinator, Dr. Jami L. Anderson, Department of Philosophy, University of Michigan-Flint, Flint, MI 48502-1950;

The deadline for proposal submission is May 1, 2014.

Vol. 3, Issue 1 of the Journal of Cognition and Neuroethics (JCN) will be based on the proceedings of the 2014 CCN conference. All papers presented at the Free Will conference will be eligible for inclusion in this issue of JCN. For additional journal and contact information, see

The Journal of Cognition and Neuroethics is a twice-yearly, peer-reviewed, open access journal published online, aimed at the cross-fertilization of research in neuroscience and related medical fields with scholarship in normative disciplines that focus on legal, social and ethical and policy issues. JCN is committed to presenting wide ranging discussions. We are looking to publish works that explore ideas, concepts, theories and their implications across multiple disciplines and professions.
The Center for Cognition and Neuroethics promotes both the exploration of the conceptual foundations of the neurosciences and the study of the implications of their advances for society in the legal, political, and ethical realms. The CCN will disseminate this knowledge to as wide an audience as possible through publications, seminars, and other media. We engage in activities across multiple disciplines and professions that allow opportunities for intellectual synergy and increased impact by creating, fostering and supporting research and educational collaborations and communication. For more information about CCN see

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