The importance of self-knowledge for free action

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Gurrola, J. (2022). The importance of self-knowledge for free action. European Journal of Philosophy, 1–18.


Much has been made about the ways that implicit biases and other apparently unreflective attitudes can affect our actions and judgments in ways that negatively affect our ability to do right. What has been discussed less is that these attitudes negatively affect our freedom. In this paper, I argue that implicit biases pose a problem for free will. My analysis focuses on the compatibilist notion of free will according to which acting freely consists in acting in accordance with our reflectively endorsed beliefs and desires. Though bias presents a problem for free action, I argue that there are steps agents can take to regain their freedom. One such strategy is for agents to cultivate better self-knowledge of the ways that their freedom depends on the relationship between their conscious and unconscious attitudes, and the way these work together to inform action and judgment. This knowledge can act as an important catalyst for agents to seek out and implement short- and long-term strategies for reducing the influence of bias, and I offer four proposals along these lines. The upshot is that though bias is a powerful influence on our actions, we need not resign ourselves to its negative effects for freedom.