Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, January 27, 2014

Daniel Dennett on Sam Harris's book "Free Will"

If you're looking for a critical analysis of free will v. determinism, look no further than Dan Dennett's protracted review of Harris's Free will in the link below.  I've only given it a cursory glance, but it looks as if Dennett pulled out the knives.

I'm sure Jon and others my wish to put their two-cents into the pot as well.  Link is below.

Take me straight to the debate.

1 comment:

  1. The free will issue has always fascinated me. Harris's book was a brilliant if terse read, but I remained unconvinced (for the most part, anyway). I think the answer here is that I simply don't know. Dan Dennett's "Freedom Evolves" as a defense of compatibilism seemed to me brilliantly engaging and I think I found myself resonating with it more, but of course I always go back to Harris's terse summary of compatibilism: "A puppet is free as long as he loves his strings." And this, I'm afraid, is about all I can say. Like at the end of 1984, when the final heartbreaking words are "He loved Big Brother," it seems the only way we could possibly cope with such totalitarian oppression is by embracing the puppet-master. Of course Dennett, in that link, specifically takes exception to that. But I don't know. The issue of free will has so many implications. In a particular essay in my book, I try (and, of course, fail) to wrestle with the concept in my book by examining Oedipus Rex, a stunning example of the implications of determinism--Oedipus's fate is sealed, and it's fascinatingly disturbing.

    I'll quote myself here, because I think I did a decent job of at least summing up the implications of determinism:

    "With all these in mind, and with the prospect of free will beginning to fade away, one must wonder: do we actually have the ability to change our destiny? Did Oedipus even have the opportunity to control his fate? Can anyone be held accountable for their actions if they are doomed to perform them from the beginning of time? When one asks this type of complex and seemingly unanswerable question, one is faced with one ultimate question: Does it matter?

    In a word, no, it does not.

    Fate or no fate, free will or no free will, god(s) or no god, the only thing that clearly matters as humans sharing an experience is making our time--however short--worthwhile. How can this be done? We must choose, whatever that means, to follow our most base human instinct. We must forget the construct of the individual. We must protect each other, whether from fate or circumstance. We must generate understanding that we must cognitively try to fix the problems rather than just letting fate take control--even if we are doomed by fate, we would be disgustingly apathetic creatures if we didn’t at least try to overcome, for if we do not try, it serves to reason that it would be utterly impossible to make the world better. Whether or not we have free will does not mean we can ignore the possibility of improving the human condition. It is within our hands to construct our own final fate. There are no excuses. Ultimately, we must strive to truly love each other--this is the only way by which anything may be improved."