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Manifestations of the Will. On Mind and Brain


Dieter Sturma


Professor for Philosophy at the University of Bonn, director of the Institute of Science and Ethics (IWE) and director of the German Reference Center for Ethics in the Lifesciences (DRZE)

I want to show that, contrary to popular belief, neuroscientific research is not a threat for conceptions of autonomy or free will – as long as these concepts are developed within a naturalistic (integrative, not eliminativist) frame work. Neuroscientific techniques provide essential contributions for the understanding of human consciousness. However, there are no non-ambiguous assignments between neural states and the phenomenal content of mental states. Since there are mutual transitions between neural and conscious representations of actions, and we have to find a way to integrate representations in the realm of causes (neural processes) and representations in the space of reasons (manifest behaviour of persons). Senso-motoric representations share features of representations of reactive attitudes and actions. Physical as well as psychological relations do not consist of simple causal units. It is rather the attitudes and intentions that are expressed in these relations, which persist in the life of a person. The function of intentions is not merely to start a certain action and then to disappear; instead, they endure in behavioral patterns over time. What a person intends and how she acts leaves traces in her neural system—however marginal. In the end, neuroscience contributes considerably to the practical options of persons. They can relate to their limitations and adjust their behavior on the bases of neuroscientific findings, and under favorable conditions at least some of their actions can be qualified as free and autonomous.

With contributions from

Prof. Dr. Dennis Patterson (Institute of Law, European University Institute, Florence, Italy)


Moderated by

Former Vice-Rector Prof. Dr. Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik (Department of East Asian Studies, University of Vienna)

Vienna Conference on Consciousness
Department für Verhaltensbiologie
Universität Wien

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