About me

cropped-Eddy-Nahmias-22.jpgI am professor and chair of the Philosophy Department at Georgia State University. I am an associate faculty member of the Neuroscience Institute.

You can reach me at enahmias@gsu.edu

You can find most of my papers on my Research page.

My research is devoted to the study of human agency:  what it is, how it is possible, and how it accords with scientific accounts of human nature. My primary focus is the free will debate.

In my work I argue that the free will debate should not be focused on the traditional question of whether free will is compatible with determinism. Rather, more attention should be paid to distinct threats posed by the sciences of the mind (e.g., neuroscience and psychology) and conversely, what these sciences can tell us about how free will works in humans.  I examine these threats and argue that they do not show that free will is an illusion. Instead, these sciences can help to explain free will, rather than explaining it away. To set up these conclusions about what the modern mind sciences tell us about free will, I offer a naturalistic theory of free will focusing on the importance of imagination and self-knowledge—especially our ability to consider various future decisions and their outcomes, to know what we really want, and to know how to act on it. This account of free will, which analyzes it as set of psychological capacities that agents possess and exercise to varying degrees, is amenable to scientific inquiry.

For short synopses of my views, see my New York Times article, “Is Neuroscience the Death of Free Will?“, my Scientific American article, “Why We Have Free Will,” or my interview with Richard Marshall at 3:AM Magazine.

I argue that free will should be understood as a set of psychological capacities, including imagination in this chapter. And I argue for naturalism about free will in this chapter.In work with Oisin Deery we use interventionist theories of causation to explain free will and respond to manipulation arguments for incompatibilism. See “Defeating Manipulation Arguments: Interventionist Causation and Compatibilist Sourcehood.”

I have conducted experimental philosophy research with several of my former students.  Our studies suggest that most people do not take determinism, properly understood, to be incompatible with free will and moral responsibility. Rather, most people take determinism to be threatening when they misinterpret it to entail reductionism, epiphenomenalism, or fatalism–what I call ‘bypassing threats’ to agency. In these papers, we also discuss the role such data should play in the philosophical debates.  See, for instance, “Explaining Away Incompatibilist Intuitions,” “Free Will, Moral Responsibility, and Mechanism,” “Is Incompatibilism Intuitive?” and other papers in the Research section of this website or my PhilPapers page.

I have written several papers that discuss the relevance of scientific research to free will and agency, including “Is Free Will an Illusion,” which responds to scientific challenges to free will, and “Why ‘Willusionism’ Leads to ‘Bad Results’,” which offers an explanation for why recent scientific claims that free will is an illusion may lead people to behave worse. In “Autonomous Agency and the Threat of Social Psychology,” I consider how research in situationist social psychology potentially threatens free will, and I examine Daniel Wegner’s claims about the illusion of conscious will in “Agency, Authorship, and Illusion” and “When Consciousness Matters.”

In “Close Calls and the Confident Agent,” I consider the significance of alternative possibilities for free will. In the unpublished paper, “The State of the Free Will Debate: From Frankfurt Cases to the Consequence Argument,” I discuss the structure of incompatibilist arguments.

Along with Thomas Nadelhoffer and Shaun Nichols, I co-edited Moral Psychology: Historical and Contemporary Readings (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). The volume brings together contemporary texts by philosophers, psychologists and other cognitive scientists with foundational works from both philosophy and psychology that discuss key debates in moral psychology, including moral motivation, altruism, responsible agency, virtues, and intuitions.

My research has been funded by two grants from the Templeton Foundation, one for the Defining Wisdom project out of University of Chicago, and another (with Thomas Nadelhoffer, Kathleen Vohs, and Jonathan Schooler) for the Big Questions in Free Will project out of Florida State University.

I enjoy teaching very much and find that my research is motivated by my attempts to make philosophical questions interesting and relevant to my students.  In the Teaching section, you can find my pedagogical publications, students I have advised and collaborated with, and syllabi for some recent courses, such as seminars on “Free Will and the Sciences of the Mind” and “Moral Psychology.”  In 2003 I won the Teaching Award from the Florida State Honors program. As DUS for philosophy, I try to help students see the value of a philosophy major.

I am active in the SPP, the Society for Philosophy and Psychology (serving as program chair for the 2005 meeting). I blog occasionally at Flickers of Freedom, AskPhilosophers, and Experimental Philosophy.

I have been at GSU since 2005, when I returned to my hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, where I grew up, attended Emory University, and met my wife, Cheryl. From 2001-2005, I was an assistant professor at Florida State University.  Before that, I received my PhD in 2001 from Duke University, where I wrote my dissertation, Free Will and the Knowledge Condition, under the direction of Owen Flanagan.  Between college and grad school, I spent a year at St. Andrews University in Scotland, studying philosophy, and I taught for two years at Yeshiva High School in Atlanta.

I like to play and watch soccer, to read the newspaper, to watch TV and movies, and to play guitar.  My wife Cheryl heads the International Baccalaureate (IB) program at Decatur High School.  In addition to Cheryl, the loves of my life are my sons, Lucas and Sam, and my daughter Eve.