Grants: Theoretical Underpinnings of Free Will (2011-2012)

Grants offered through Florida State University supporting theoretical work on the nature, extent, and limits of free will.

Fellowship Announcement

The Big Questions in Free Will Program offers funds for inquiry into ontological and conceptual foundations of free will. Grants will support work that investigates the necessary conditions and ontological structures which make possible the reality of free will. Research will typically be conducted by philosophers with specializations in metaphysics or the philosophy of mind. However, researchers in quantum physics and neuroscience have also argued that there are distinctively scientific approaches to explaining the ontological foundations of free will. Proposals that approach the topic from this perspective are also welcome.

Florida State University, with the support of a generous grant from The John Templeton Foundation, is pleased to announce the “Big Questions in Free Will: The Theoretical Underpinnings of Free Will” program for 2010-2013. Florida State University invites scholars to apply for funds for research into the ontological or conceptual foundations of free will. Younger scholars are especially encouraged to apply.

Letters of Intent are due by October 1, 2010. Successful applicants at the LOI stage will be notified by November 15 and asked to submit full proposals no later than February 15, 2011. Final award decisions will be issued by March 31, 2011.

Fellowship Director: Alfred Mele, Florida State University

Fellowship Description

In the area of the theoretical underpinnings of free will, the Big Questions in Free Will program provides one-year grant awards in amounts not to exceed $80,000. Average award amounts are anticipated to be $60,000. Applicants are strongly encouraged to consider spending at least one semester of the research year as a fellow in residence at Florida State University. Successful applicants who wish to be in residence are eligible for residential stipend supplements of $6000 for one academic semester or $12,000 for one academic year. Stipend supplements will not count against the $80,000 award cap. Grant recipients will be expected to attend research colloquia in 2011-13 (three colloquia in all) to present proposed research as well as findings.

All award recipients are expected to complete and disseminate the results of their research through publications, lectures, or presentations at academic conferences within a short time after the end of the fellowship program. Award recipients are also required to submit a report to the Director describing the effects of the funded research on the direction of their research within a year following the fellowship period, and to send the Director notice of presentations as well as copies of any papers and books resulting from research conducted during the award period.

Application Instructions

Award recipients are chosen from applicants in a worldwide open competition administered by Florida State University.

Letter of Intent (LOI) Stage

Applicants are required to submit:

  • A complete curriculum vitae. (For team proposals, a CV is required for all major team members).
  • A letter of intent, not to exceed 1000 words, that includes a description of the work to be carried out and a simplified budget with accompanying narrative.
  • Three letters of recommendation (to be sent to us by their authors; see FAQ).

Authors of all letters of intent (along with subsequent full proposals, where invited) will be required to use a lexicon of key terms. The lexicon aims to provide useful definitions of key terms in the study of free will.

Application materials should be submitted by e-mail attachment, if possible, to The word “Underpinnings” should appear at the top of all proposals and in the e-mail subject line. Acceptable file formats: Word and PDF only. Questions about the application process can be sent to the same address. All application materials, including letters of recommendation, must be received no later than October 1, 2010.

Full Proposal Stage

Applicants are required to submit:

  • A description of the work to be carried out, not to exceed 1500 words.
  • A budget with accompanying narrative, not to exceed one single-spaced page.
  • CVs and letters of recommendation submitted at the LOI stage will be saved.

Full proposals should be submitted by e-mail attachment, if possible, to The word “Underpinnings” should appear at the top of all proposals and in the e-mail subject line. Acceptable file formats: Word and PDF only. Questions about full proposals can be sent to the same address. Full proposals must be received no later than February 15, 2011.

Grant Eligibility

Applicants must have a Ph.D. and be affiliated with an accredited college or university. Applicants should be able to demonstrate strong promise of or an established record of successful publication.


Date Event
October 1, 2010 Deadline for LOI submission
November 15, 2010 Invitations for full proposals issued
February 15, 2011 Deadline for invited full proposals
March 31, 2011 Award announcements issued
August 2012 Research concludes

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have a question that is not answered below, please contact us at

What kinds of research projects may I work on?

Nine examples of topics (among a much broader range of possible topics) are the following:

  1. It is often claimed that no free action can be deterministically caused. If this is true, does free will require a non-physical aspect, emergent powers, or nothing over and above ordinary physical minds?
  2. Is quantum indeterminacy somehow implicated in free will? Can such indeterminacy help support free will and, if so, how?
  3. Are there aspects of quantum reality that explain the abilities of agents to break the grip of determinism on macroscopic reality generally?
  4. Are the powers of agents emergent from lower orders of physical reality? How is such emergence possible?
  5. How can emergent powers act (via “downward causation”) in such a way as to orchestrate bodily behavior? Do we find emergent properties, powers, or even substances elsewhere in nature?
  6. Is downward causation possible and if so how?
  7. Philosophers have argued that far from being a necessary condition for free will, indeterminism undermines free will because indeterminism undermines control. Does indeterminism undermine control and thus free will? If so, how? If not, why not?
  8. How can agents have the powers that seem requisite for free action?
  9. Is free will compatible with determinism or subjection to natural law? If so, how can these determined or law-governed actions be the target of moral assessment? And why are many people inclined to resist the belief in such compatibility? If not, how can “lawless action” be within our control?

The preceding list of examples seems a bit slanted toward incompatibilist themes. Will compatibilist proposals be seriously considered?

The Theoretical Underpinnings arm of the Big Questions in Free Will program does have a special interest in incompatibilist models of free will, including both developments and critiques of such models. Compatibilist critiques of incompatibilist models, views, and arguments will certainly be considered seriously. Proposals for projects that assume that compatibilism is true probably would not be competitive.

May I propose more than one research project?

No. Each applicant may propose only one project – including solo projects and team projects.

What is a typical use of the available grant money?

Normally, funds will be used to support sabbatical leaves or other research leaves.

How should letters of recommendation be submitted?

Authors of letters of recommendation should submit them by e-mail to or send a printed letter to BQFW, Attn.: Karen Foulke, Department of Philosophy, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306-1500 USA.

In my LOI or my full proposal, should I request funds for travel to BQFW colloquia?

No. Should you be a grant winner, your reasonable travel expenses for attendance of BQFW colloquia (including accommodations and some meals), will be reimbursed by the BQFW project.