Phenomenal abilities: Incompatibilism and the experience of agency

Oisin Nial Deery, Matthew Bedke, Shaun Nichols

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


Incompatibilists often claim that we experience our agency as incompatible with determinism, while compatibilists challenge this claim. We report a series of experiments that focus on whether the experience of having an ability to do otherwise is taken to be at odds with determinism. We found that participants in our studies described their experience as incompatibilist whether the decision was (i) present-focused or retrospective, (ii) imagined or actual, (iii) morally salient or morally neutral. The only case in which participants did not give incompatibilist judgments was when the question was explicitly about whether one’s ignorance of the future was compatible with determinism. This lends empirical support to claims made by incompatibilists about the experience of agency, while also showing that compatibilist accounts of ability are inadequate to the reported phenomenology. Our results also inform recent debates about the presuppositions of deliberation.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Studies in Agency and Responsibility Volume 1
EditorsDavid Shoemaker
Place of PublicationOxford UK
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Electronic)9780199694853
ISBN (Print)9780199694860
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameOxford Studies
PublisherOxford University Press

Cite this