What’s Dennett On About?

Here are some quotations from Freedom Evolves which may help you decide whether you want to bother reading it.

“To say that if determinism is true, your future is fixed, is to say… nothing interesting. To say that if determinism is true, your nature is fixed, is to say something false. […] The confusion arises when one tries to maintain two perspectives on the universe at once: the ‘God’s eye’ perspective that sees past and future all laid out before it, and the engaged perspective of an agent within the universe.” (p. 93)

Another on different viewpoints:

Population geneticists tend to shun all discussions of bodies, structures, and real-world events that somehow compose selection events and instead just talk about the effects on the gene pool of one hypothesized change or another. […] Imagine a tennis tournament in which contestants just strip to the buff and get carefully examined, pairwise, by sports doctors and coaches who vote on which of each pair advances to the next round, until a winner is declared. Population geneticists would appreciate the point of such strange practice, but would acknowledge that since the judges’ criteria ought to be grounded in the rough-and-tumble of actual play, it is better to let the players go at it and let their actual contests decide the winners. Still, they would insist, you don’t have to watch. [… W]e can stand back and just tabulate eventual winners and losers, but we mustn’t forget that the contests do go on. Thinking happens, and how thinking happens affects which memes do well.” (p. 188)

On Dennett’s choice of tactics:

“I see him [Daniel Wegner] as the killjoy scientist who shows that Cupid doesn’t shoot arrows and then insists on entitling his book The Illusion of Romanic Love. […] Wegner and I agree on the bottom line; what we disagree on is tactics. […] I prefer to make the same points by saying that no, free will is not an illusion; all the varieties of free will worth wanting are, or can be, ours—but you have to give up a bit of false and outdated ideology to understand how this can be so. Romantic love minus Cupid’s arrow is still worth yearning for. It is still, indeed, romantic love, real romantic love.” (pp. 224-225)

And this is lovely, from Wegner’s The Illusion of Conscious Will: “A voluntary action is something a person can do when asked.” I’m not sure Dennett likes it, but it’s a hell of a lot better than some of the bullshit I’ve read and heard recently in a conference.


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