The Illusion of Conscious Will

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MIT Press, Dec 22, 2017 - Philosophy - 432 pages

A new edition of Wegner's classic and controversial work, arguing that conscious will simply reminds of us the authorship of our actions.

Do we consciously cause our actions, or do they happen to us? Philosophers, psychologists, neuroscientists, theologians, and lawyers have long debated the existence of free will versus determinism. With the publication of The Illusion of Conscious Will in 2002, Daniel Wegner proposed an innovative and provocative answer: the feeling of conscious will is created by the mind and brain; it helps us to appreciate and remember our authorship of the things our minds and bodies do. Yes, we feel that we consciously will our actions, Wegner says, but at the same time, our actions happen to us. Although conscious will is an illusion (“the most compelling illusion”), it serves as a guide to understanding ourselves and to developing a sense of responsibility and morality. Wegner was unable to undertake a second edition of the book before his death in 2013; this new edition adds a foreword by Wegner's friend, the prominent psychologist Daniel Gilbert, and an introduction by Wegner's colleague Thalia Wheatley.

Approaching conscious will as a topic of psychological study, Wegner examines cases both when people feel that they are willing an act that they are not doing and when they are not willing an act that they in fact are doing in such phenomena as hypnosis, Ouija board spelling, and dissociative identity disorder.

Wegner's argument was immediately controversial (called “unwarranted impertinence” by one scholar) but also compelling. Engagingly written, with wit and clarity, The Illusion of Conscious Will was, as Daniel Gilbert writes in the foreword to this edition, Wegner's “magnum opus.”


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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - bkinetic - LibraryThing

This is the sort of book that many psychologists wish they had written. Wegner's achievement was to collect separate bits of research and put them together in an organized whole, providing impressive ... Read full review

Review: The Illusion of Conscious Will

User Review  - Lukas - Goodreads

Doesn't quite prove much, but definitely shifts the burden of proof upon those who believe in some species of free will. Read full review


1 The Illusion
2 Brain and Body
3 The Experience of Will
4 An Analysis of Automatism
5 Protecting the Illusion
6 Action Projection
7 Virtual Agency
8 Hypnosis and Will
9 The Minds Compass
Author Index
Subject Index

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About the author (2017)

The late Daniel M. Wegner was Professor of Psychology at Harvard University.

Thalia Wheatley is Associate Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College.

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