But for more than a quarter-century, there has been a growing movement in
research institutes and the halls of academia that claims free will may be
one of life's great illusions.
Is it possible we really aren't in control of our actions?
Enter Alfred Mele, an esteemed scholar and professor in Florida State
University's Department of Philosophy. Mele (pronounced mealy) has been
awarded a whopping $4.4 million, four-year grant to study free will.
"It seems that free will is very important to people," Mele said. "Most
people like the thought that they are in control of their behavior and their
"Our legal system in a way depends on a belief in free will. I think free
will is a big part and an important part of thinking about ordinary life."
Mele received the grant from the John Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic
catalyst for research relating to what scientists and philosophers call the
big questions. The $4.4 million awarded to Mele pales in comparison to the
$10 million the foundation recently awarded to a Harvard professor to study
evolution and the theology of cooperation.
Mike Murray, vice president of philosophy and theology at the foundation,
enlisted Mele's help about a year ago when he wanted to create a project
examining free will. Earlier this month, it was announced that Mele would be
the principal investigator for the project.
"I think (Mele) is in a distinctive place to manage a project like this.
He's one of the leading figures in free will in the philosophical field, and
he has directly engaged with the empirical side more than anyone else,"
Mele, who holds a professorial chair endowed by William H. and Lucyle T.
Werkmeister in FSU's philosophy department, has been casting doubt on some
of the work by neurobiologists and others questioning free will.
His most recent books, "Effective Intentions: The Power of Conscious Will"
(2009) and "Free Will and Luck" (2006, both published by the prestigious
Oxford University Press), tackled the major theoretical challenges to the
thesis that we sometimes act freely.