The Illusion of Conscious Will

Front Cover
MIT Press, 2002 - Philosophy - 405 pages

A novel contribution to the age-old debate about free will versus determinism.

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. In this book Daniel Wegner offers a novel understanding of the issue. Like actions, he argues, the feeling of conscious will is created by the mind and brain. Yet if psychological and neural mechanisms are responsible for all human behavior, how could we have conscious will? The feeling of conscious will, Wegner shows, 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, it serves as a guide to understanding ourselves and to developing a sense of responsibility and morality.

Approaching conscious will as a topic of psychological study, Wegner examines the issue from a variety of angles. He looks at illusions of the will--those cases where people feel that they are willing an act that they are not doing or, conversely, are not willing an act that they in fact are doing. He explores conscious will in hypnosis, Ouija board spelling, automatic writing, and facilitated communication, as well as in such phenomena as spirit possession, dissociative identity disorder, and trance channeling. The result is a book that sidesteps endless debates to focus, more fruitfully, on the impact on our lives of the illusion of conscious will.


What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
4 stars
3 stars
2 stars
1 star

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


The Illusion
Brain and Body
The Experience of Will
An Analysis of Automatism
Protecting the Illusion
Action Projection
Virtual Agency
Hypnosis and Will
The Minds Compass
Author Index
Subject Index

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page 349 - The Principles of Mental Physiology. With their Applications to the Training and Discipline of the Mind, and the Study of its Morbid Conditions.
Page 1 - ... data to analysis, could condense into a single formula the movement of the greatest bodies of the universe and that of the...

About the author (2002)

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

Bibliographic information