The Phenomenology of Free Agency

CFS lecture by Professor Galen Strawson, Department of Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin, USA & Center for Subjectivity Research, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.


The experience of free agency essentially involves cognitive experience, given the use of the term ‘cognitive experience’ (or equivalently ‘cognitive phenomenology’) to denote all experience/phenomenology – including conative experience/phenomenology – that is more than merely sensory.

This talk examines the sense in which this is so. It considers the view that we can’t help experiencing ourselves as radically free agents. It asks whether it is even possible for intelligent, rational, fully self-conscious, purposive intentional agents not to experience themselves in this way. It goes on to propose that the experience of freedom has both compatibilist and incompatibilist elements; and that we experience ourselves as radically free in a way that would require us to have been radically self-determining even though we don’t actually believe that we are radically self-determined. Finally, it argues (contrary to P. F. Strawson and others) that our commitment to belief in free agency is fundamentally rooted not in our experience of the agency of others but in our experience of our own agency.