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Free Will and Compatibilism

2. What Is Free Will?

2.4 Mental Illness

Book cover: Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain by Michael S. Gazzanig

A mental incapacity to reason and regulate one's behaviour, either because of genetic history, accident or disease, is regarded as an important restrictor of an agent's free will. Here, I give some examples from the generalist literature.

Following the tragic incident in which psychiatric patient, Gulchekhra Bobokulova, beheaded the young child she was minding for her parents, Ms Bobokulova's father was reported as saying that she would never have committed such a crime of her own free will. He added, 'She needs treatment. She'd never have done this herself' [Oliphant 2016].

June experiences hallucinations that command her to commit various acts. She writes, 'I find that it is like my free will has been removed and have no alternative but, to obey.' She also links this feeling of compulsion to the feeling that the voice inside her head 'keeps me from being myself' [Nemade 2009].

Herschel Hardin is the father of a child with schizophrenia. He laments that the illness deprives all those affected by the illness of the capacity for free will by robbing them of rationality and autonomy. 'Their personalities are subsumed by their distorted thoughts' [Hardin 1993], as he puts it.

As these examples show once again, the common themes in the ordinary person's ways of thinking about free will are that its presence requires that a person's character is intact and that they can reason. What is also of critical significance here is the fact that the insanity defense has a long history in jurisprudence. In many legal jurisdictions, the defense applies when it is judged that the accused is dispossessed of their free will. Experts for the defense must testify that the accused is either cognitively incompetent, unable to comprehend the nature of the act and to reason about it, or volitionally incompetent, unable to control their impulses. In either case, expert witness for the prosecution is not called upon to demonstrate what the libertarian asserts; that the causes of the defendant's transgression were themselves uncaused activities in the brain. One such example of how the absence of free will in the mentally incapacitated works in a legal defense is Colorado v. Connelly [1986]. For a useful history and critical review of the insanity defense, see Grachek [2006].

Copyright © 2016

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