Put another way, why think that consciousness matters for free will/moral responsibility? I actually do think that consciousness matters, though I doubt the fine-grained timing of conscious states matters. But this is not a view that we ought to simply assume. Indeed, it is a view that is now increasingly rejected. Nomy Arpaly, Tim Scanlon, Angela Smith and George Sher have each published books or articles rejecting the need for agents to be conscious of the reasons for which we act in order to be responsible for our actions. Christopher Suhler and Pat Churchland have argued for a similar conclusion, on very different grounds. If we are swayed by them, the Libet argument won’t even have a prima facie plausibility as a threat to free will.
So my question is: why think that consciousness matters for free will/moral responsibility? Most of the arguments that occur to me off the top of my head seem question begging. One is an argument from the deliberative perspective. We might think that the deliberative perspective is bounded by what is in awareness, and argue as follows: my actions express the quality of my will. But my quality of will is a function of how I see things when I deliberate. If I fail to see that I harm you, then I do not express ill-will toward you, nor even indifference. So what I am (directly) responsible for is a function of how things stand in my deliberation, and this is a function of what I am aware of. The problem with this argument, obviously, is that it assumes, without argument, that it is only in consciously responding to reasons that I express the quality of my will. Similar arguments might be constructed turning on a Frankfurtian identification view, or a control view: they also seem to beg the question by assuming that conscious identification is what matters, or conscious control is what matters.
I suppose Sher would concede the first, but he may not be moved by the second. I think attention to how facts which fall outside the searchlight influence behavior will help motivate it. Demands like this cannot enter into the content of our intentions (where an intention is the content of X in the phrase “… in order to X”). When we are influenced by such demands, either we act for a veridical intention (as when we act in order to comply with an experimenter’s instruction < to post the card through the slot >) or we confabulate an intention (as when we act to choose the best item, without realizing that there is no best item). In either case, we remain unaware of the content of the demand, and of how it influences our behavior. It influences us either by influencing the content of our deliberative perspective, without becoming the content, or by stealth. It may be helpful to us in achieving our goals, or it may be detrimental; in neither case does the demand come up for review, and we have no opportunity to endorse or moderate the influence it has on us.