Effective Intentions: The Power of Conscious Will

Effective Intentions: The Power of Conscious Will

Effective Intentions: The Power of Conscious Will

Effective Intentions: The Power of Conscious Will


Each of the following claims has been defended in the scientific literature on free will and consciousness: your brain routinely decides what you will do before you become conscious of its decision; there is only a 100 millisecond window of opportunity for free will, and all it can do is veto conscious decisions, intentions, or urges; intentions never play a role in producing corresponding actions; and free will is an illusion.

In Effective Intentions Alfred Mele shows that the evidence offered to support these claims is sorely deficient. He also shows that there is strong empirical support for the thesis that some conscious decisions and intentions have a genuine place in causal explanations of corresponding actions. In short, there is weighty evidence of the existence of effective conscious intentions or the power of conscious will. Mele examines the accuracy of subjects' reports about when they first became aware of decisions or intentions in laboratory settings and develops some implications of warranted skepticism about the accuracy of these reports. In addition, he explores such questions as whether we must be conscious of all of our intentions and why scientists disagree about this. Mele's final chapter closes with a discussion of imaginary scientific findings that would warrant bold claims about free will and consciousness of the sort he examines in this book.


In November 2007, while I was working on this book, I received the following e-mail message from someone I don’t know.

Dear Dr. Mele,
I recently purchased a DVD by Dr. Stephen Wolinsky…. He
explains from the point of neuroscience that there is no such
thing as free will, as we can only perceive an action after it
has already occurred. Can you please help me with this? I
can understand that I don’t know what thought will occur
next. But that that has already happened is beyond compre
hension. Thank you as I am in a lot of despair.

The belief that scientists have proved that there is no such thing as free will is disturbing. (Indeed, there is some evidence that this belief has undesirable effects on behavior; see Vohs and Schooler 2008.) But don’t despair. They haven’t proved this, as I explain in this book. Nor has anyone proved that there is no such thing as an effective intention, as I also explain.

Effective intentions are (roughly) intentions that issue in corresponding actions. For example, if I have an effective intention to explain this book’s title in this preface, it is (roughly) an intention to do that that issues in my doing it. In fact, I do intend to explain the title—especially the subtitle.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.