Rationality + Consciousness = Free Will

Rationality + Consciousness = Free Will

Rationality + Consciousness = Free Will

Rationality + Consciousness = Free Will


In recent years, philosophical discussions of free will have focused largely on whether or not free will is compatible with determinism. In this challenging book, David Hodgson takes a fresh approach to the question of free will, contending that close consideration of human rationality and human consciousness shows that together they give us free will, in a robust and indeterministic sense. In particular, they give us the capacity to respond appositely to feature-rich gestalts of conscious experiences, in ways that are not wholly determined by laws of nature or computational rules. The author contends that this approach is consistent with what science tells us about the world; and he considers its implications for our responsibility for our own conduct, for the role of retribution in criminal punishment, and for the place of human beings in the wider scheme of things.


In my previous book The Mind Matters, published in 1991, I argued that our conscious mental processes make a contribution to our decisions and actions over and above the contribution made by physical processes of our brains. That book supported the view that human beings do have free will in a robust and indeterministic sense; but left much unsaid about what that contribution was.

In following years, I published articles in which I sought to develop and clarify my ideas about free will, and also to relate them to questions about our responsibility for our actions and the justification of retributory punishment in criminal law.

The idea at the heart of the present book, namely that conscious beings can respond appositely to whole feature-rich experiences that do not engage with laws or rules of any kind, was first developed at some length in an article entitled ‘Three Tricks of Consciousness’ published in Journal of Consciousness Studies in 2002. Parts of chapters 5 and 6 of this book are derived from that article.

In 2007 I wrote a short article in which I attempted a systematic summary of my thinking about free will, with a view to answering Galen Strawson’s very persuasive argument (referred to in chapter 9 of this book) against the very possibility of free will and responsibility. This article was published by Times Literary Supplement in July of that year under the title ‘Partly Free’.

It occurred to me that this article could provide a framework for a book bringing together ideas I had been developing since 1991, and I set about writing a book based on the article.

As with my previous book, much writing was done on my forty-minute train journeys to and from my workplace. In addition, I was able to take a period of long leave from my judicial work in 2009. One month of this was spent as a visiting fellow at the Philosophy Program of the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University. There I greatly benefited from discussions with David Chalmers, Daniel Stoljar, Declan Smithies, Michael Titelbaum, Martine Nida-Ruemelin, Noa Latham and others, and also from discussions at seminars I gave there.

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