Empirical data in the philosophy of mind: free will, higher-order thought, and misrepresentation

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (compilation)


This thesis investigates two areas of the philosophy of mind where empirical data play a role in philosophical argument. The first area, investigated in three papers, is the higher-order thought theory of consciousness, and specifically the possibility of higher-order thoughts misrepresenting what state an individual is actually in. The second area, investigated in two papers, is free will.
The introductory essay provides an overview and discussion of a selection of cases, where empirical sciences and the philosophy of mind Interact.
The first paper is a critical evaluation of an argument for the possibility of misrepresentation based on rare cases of Charles Bonnet syndrome. The paper assesses whether the rare cases of Charles Bonnet syndrome really show what they are purported to. I conclude that there is a fallacy in the argument developed from the empirical data. The upshot is that the rare Charles Bonnet syndrome cannot be counted as evidence of misrepresentation.
In the second paper, I propose a theory of free will that turns on aversion and positive reinforcement. According to the theory aversion and positive reinforcement enter into a self-perpetuating mechanism driving a propensity for introspection. If we identify this propensity for introspection with free will, I argue, we can get a concept of free will that is in line with intuitions, and gives us what it is we want when we want free will.
In the third paper, I propose that the philosophical concept of wholeheartedness may be fruitfully applied to empirical data from the choice blindness phenomenon. Because the concept of wholeheartedness has inherent ties to personal identity, it may serve to delineate the boundary between choices can be manipulated and those that cannot. This, in turn, also means that the choice blindness phenomenon is not a threat to theories of free will where wholeheartedness serves as the foundation for free will.
The fourth paper assesses the change blindness phenomenon proposed to support the possibility of misrepresentation. I propose an alternative interpretation of the change blindness data on which nothing follows with respect to misrepresentation. Three lines of reply defending change blindness as evidence of misrepresentation against my interpretation are examined and debunked. Because it is underdetermined which interpretation is correct, pending further evidence, change blindness cannot be counted as evidence of misrepresentation.
In the fifth paper, my co-author and I align ourselves with the alternative interpretation of the change-blindness data presented in the fourth paper. We present empirical data in support of the central hypothesis of the alternative interpretation. The view advanced is the mind conceived of as satisficing, geared towards reliability instead of truth-tracking, and guided by representations that are good enough as opposed to complete or corresponding to the facts. We posit that the alternative interpretation is at least as plausible as the one in terms of misrepresentation and has similar explanatory, predictive, and descriptive powers.


Research areas and keywords


  • Consciousness, higher-order thought, misrepresentation, Free Will, change blindness, Charles Bonnet Syndrome, Choice Blindness, Wholeheartedness, Introspection
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
  • Ingar Brinck, Supervisor
  • Peter, Gärdenfors, Supervisor, External person
Award date2017 May 31
Place of PublicationLund, Sweden
  • Lund University Press
Print ISBNs9789188473400
Publication statusPublished - 2017
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2017-05-31 Time: 10:00 Place: C121, LUX, Helgonavägen 3, Lund External reviewer(s) Name: Kriegel, Uriah Title: professor Affiliation: Institut Jean Nicod, Paris ---

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