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Dennett and the Darwinizing of Free Will by David P. Barash

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  • Human Nature Review
    Human Nature Review 2003 Volume 3: 222-225 ( 22 March ) URL of this document http://human-nature.com/nibbs/03/dcdennett.html Essay Review Dennett and the
    Message 1 of 2 , Mar 22, 2003
      Human Nature Review 2003 Volume 3: 222-225 ( 22 March )
      URL of this document http://human-nature.com/nibbs/03/dcdennett.html

      Essay Review

      Dennett and the Darwinizing of Free Will
      David P. Barash

      Freedom Evolves
      By Daniel C. Dennett
      347 pp, Viking Press (2003)

      It has ruefully been noted that we have lots of philosophy professors, but
      precious few genuine philosophers. But at least, we also have Daniel Dennett.
      He wrote the best book on evolution by a non-biologist (Dennett, 1995), and has
      been a tireless, effective, and creative advocate for incorporating natural
      selection into the purview of philosophers and thinkers generally. Dennett is
      not just a philosophy professor, but a genuine philosopher, much to our
      benefit. In Freedom Evolves, he takes on the question of free will and
      determinism, one of the oldest and most intransigent of conundrums,
      transporting the discussion where it belongs, into the realm of Darwinian

      And conundrum it is. Thus, to my mind (and I believe I write this of my own
      free will!), there can be no such thing as free will for the committed
      scientist, in his or her professional life. Thus, science itself presupposes
      that every phenomenon has a cause. We may speak of "spontaneous combustion" or
      a "spontaneous abortion" or even "spontaneous applause," but in each of these
      cases, some cause is more than likely. it is essential to a sober, naturalistic
      worldview. "Spontaneous" is simply another way of saying: "cause unknown," not
      "uncaused." Similarly, we are unlikely to describe a stone as moving
      "spontaneously," not only because it lacks any possible organs of volition, but
      because it is entirely subject to the laws of physics. What, then, about a
      jellyfish that moves "spontaneously"? A rhinoceros? A person?

      At the same time, I suspect that we all - even the most hard-headed
      materialists - live with an unspoken hypocrisy: even as we assume determinism
      in our intellectual pursuits and professional lives, we actually experience our
      subjective lives as though free will reigns supreme. In our heart of hearts, we
      know that in most ways that really count (and many that don't), we have plenty
      of free will, and so do those around us. Inconsistent? Yes, indeed. But like
      the denial of death, it is a useful inconsistency, and perhaps even one that is
      essential. (Nor is the free will/determinism debate unique in this regard. We
      might add Hume's demonstration of the impossibility of proving causation
      itself, and Berkeley's questioning of the existence of an objective world. In
      many ways, we are all forced to live with a degree of absurdity, if only
      because to acknowledge it in our daily lives is to admit yet more absurdity!)

      Full text
      Freedom Evolves by Daniel C. Dennett

      Freedom Evolves
      by Daniel Clement Dennett
      Hardcover: 352 pages ; Dimensions (in inches): 1.18 x 9.46 x 6.38
      Publisher: Viking Press; (February 10, 2003) ISBN: 0670031860
      AMAZON - US
      AMAZON - UK

      Editorial Reviews
      From Publishers Weekly
      "Trading in a supernatural soul for a natural soul-is this a fair bargain?"
      Dennett, seeking to fend off "caricatures of Darwinian thinking" that plague
      his philosophical camp, argues in this incendiary, brilliant, even dangerous
      book that it is. Picking up where he left off in Darwin's Dangerous Idea (a
      Pulitzer and National Book Award finalist), he zeroes in on free will, a
      sticking point to the opposing camp. Dennett calls his perspective
      "naturalism," a synthesis of philosophy and the natural sciences; his critics
      have called it determinism, reductionism, bioprophecy, Lamarckianism. Drawing
      on evolutionary biology, neuroscience, economic game theory, philosophy and
      Richard Dawkins's meme, the author argues that there is indeed such a thing as
      free will, but it "is not a preexisting feature of our existence, like the law
      of gravity." Dennett seeks to counter scientific caricature with precision,
      empiricism and philosophical outcomes derived from rigorous logic. This book
      comprises a kind of toolbox of intellectual exercises favoring cultural
      evolution, the idea that culture, morality and freedom are as much a result of
      evolution by natural selection as our physical and genetic attributes. Yet
      genetic determinism, he argues, does not imply inevitability, as his critics
      may claim, nor does it cancel out the soul. Rather, he says, it bolsters the
      ideals of morality and choice, and illustrates why those ideals must be
      nurtured and guarded. Dennett clearly relishes pushing other scientists'
      buttons. Though natural selection itself is still a subject of controversy, the
      author, director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts, most certainly
      is in the vanguard of the philosophy of science.
      Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

      From Library Journal
      The man who advanced our understanding of consciousness and evolution in books
      like Darwin's Dangerous Idea now addresses the issue of freedom.
      Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

      From Booklist
      An aggressive writer certain of his positions (he titled an earlier book
      Consciousness Explained, 1991), philosopher Dennett here continues his quest to
      demolish metaphysical conceptions of human nature. Our cherished concept of
      free will is the subject of this work. It may relieve those delving into his
      dense Darwinian argumentation that Dennett decides that such an attribute of
      humanity does indeed exist, albeit as a product of aimless evolution. He builds
      up to his conclusion by first breaking down a definition of determinism,
      illustrated with references to atoms, Martin Luther, and a computer model of
      evolution. Dennett then upholds the principles of Darwinian algorithms, which
      endlessly iterated created robotlike cells and, ultimately, us. The latter
      topic will perk up general readers' interest, as Dennett advances the
      nitty-gritty of his view of free will by seeking out logical flaws in a
      no-free-will interpretation of neurological experiments, and by insisting on an
      evolutionary picture of altruism and responsibility. In a complex presentation,
      Dennett's essential points will be plain to the serious readership for this
      work. Gilbert Taylor
      Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

      Book Description
      Daniel C. Dennett is a brilliant polemicist, famous for challenging unexamined
      orthodoxies. Over the last thirty years, he has played a major role in
      expanding our understanding of consciousness, developmental psychology, and
      evolutionary theory. And with such groundbreaking, critically acclaimed books
      as Consciousness Explained and Darwin's Dangerous Idea (a National Book Award
      and Pulitzer Prize finalist), he has reached a huge general and professional

      In this new book, Dennett shows that evolution is the key to resolving the
      ancient problems of moral and political freedom. Like the planet's atmosphere
      on which life depends, the conditions on which our freedom depends had to
      evolve, and like the atmosphere, they continue to evolve-and could be
      extinguished. According to Dennett, biology provides the perspective from which
      we can distinguish the varieties of freedom that matter. Throughout the history
      of life on this planet, an interacting web and internal and external conditions
      have provided the frameworks for the design of agents that are more free than
      their parts-from the unwitting gropings of the simplest life forms to the more
      informed activities of animals to the moral dilemmas that confront human beings
      living in societies.

      As in his previous books, Dennett weaves a richly detailed narrative enlivened
      by analogies as entertaining as they are challenging. Here is the story of how
      we came to be different from all other creatures, how our early ancestors
      mindlessly created human culture, and then, how culture gave us our minds, our
      visions, our moral problems-in a nutshell, our freedom.

      About the Author
      Daniel C. Dennett is a university professor and the director of the Center for
      Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. In addition to Darwin's Dangerous Idea,
      he is also the author of Kinds of Minds and Consciousness Explained.
    • George Nichols
      Unbeknownst to most scholars, the free will paradox was resolved some years ago, the answer proclaimed by none other than Sammy Davis in his great hit I ve
      Message 2 of 2 , Apr 4, 2003
        Unbeknownst to most scholars, the "free will" paradox
        was resolved some years ago, the answer proclaimed by
        none other than Sammy Davis in his great hit "I've
        Gotta be Me".
        IMHO, the continuing confusion results primarily from
        a residual dualism (or dualistic hangover) that
        opposes material processes (brain chemistry, neuronal
        activity, etc.)with our subjective experience of
        consciousness, generally according the former the
        ontologically prior (hence "determining") role.
        The attempts to resolve this "dilemma" by introducing
        random phenomena, e.g. quantum mechanics, are
        particularly misguided. Imagine getting up to get
        another beer from the fridge and, via quantum
        mechanical brain burp, finding yourself standing
        outside on the front porch (still in your skivvies),
        wondering how exactly you got there. This is freedom?
        What we call determinism on one side of this duality
        is experienced as phenomenological coherence
        (sanity?)on the other.
        Unfortunately, most discussions of "the problem of
        free will" never get beyond these paradigmatically
        induced conundrums, and miss the truly interesting
        (and problematic) aspect of this issue, illustrated as
        1--I can choose whether to eat this pizza, but I can't
        choose not to be hungry.
        2--I can choose to abstain from sexual activity, but I
        cannot choose to eliminate my feelings of arousal in
        the presence of men, women, children, etc. as the case
        may be.
        Both the conscious choices and the unconscious (i.e.
        unwilled) feelings/desires in these examples are
        aspects of the monistic (material/experiential)
        "system"--for lack of a better word--that constitutes
        "me" or what it means "to be me".
        Traditionally, society assigns "responsibility" to
        individuals for the former (willed choices) but not
        necessarily for the latter (unwilled desires).
        Obviously these 2 categories are not independent;
        presumably the differential ability to subordinate or,
        conversely, give rein to, desires via conscious
        choices conferred selective advantage to individuals.
        In any case, I think that understanding the
        interactions between these 2 categories is perhaps the
        most interesting and socially useful aspect of the
        whole free will issue.

        "In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man
        never gains social acceptance."

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