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Scholar gets $4.4 million to study free will -
Category: News
Scholar gets $4.4 million to study free will

Most of us take free will for granted. We simply assume that we do what we choose to do, that we are blessed with free will.

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 lives.

"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," Murray said.

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.


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