Peter Tse



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02/04/2014

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What a wonderful one-stop resource Eddy--a million thanks for posting this. And if you are a hanger-on, then don't let go--that's me grabbed onto your foot!

Thanks for posting this!

I thought that I'd note this part of van Inwagen's answer to the first question: "Since I find (some versions of) the Consequence Argument to be very convincing (see the answer to question 2), and since there are no real arguments for compatibilism at all, I find incompatibilism to be far more plausible than compatibilism." (pp. 213-214)

My first thought was, "did the editors remove the emoticon ;-p ?"

And for a rather different presentation of the free will debate than the 30 interviews by philosopher, see Sam Harris vs. Dan Dennett here: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-marionettes-lament

I posted this response to their debate at Coyne's blog Why Evolution is True:
I agree that Dennett’s tone is overly harsh in his review of Harris’ book. I attribute part of that to Harris offering, in his book, a really uncharitable presentation of Dennett’s compatibilist theories and simply ignoring a rich literature of recent compatibilist work (as well as other recent philosophical and psychological work in a very exciting and lively recent discussion of free will, moral responsibility, and punishment). One can’t read everything, especially when one writes as much as Harris, but as frustrating as it is for scientists to see philosophers make claims with empirical content while ignoring relevant scientific research, it is also frustrating for philosophers to see scientists develop philosophical views without understanding the relevant philosophy.

I look forward to Prof. Coyne’s response to attempts by my co-authors and me to shed light on how ordinary people actually understand free will, moral responsibility, and their relations to determinism or a naturalistic world view.

If I may, I’ll point out a review I wrote of Sam Harris’ book a couple years ago (with Jason Shepard and Shane Reuter, we have further results on the study mentioned in the review, which was inspired by Harris’ own prediction in his book that people would clearly see that free will is an illusion if they recognized the possibility of perfectly predicting decisions and actions based on brain scans of neural activity. Harris’ prediction is not supported by our results):
http://philpapers.org/rec/NAHDFW

Eddy, I just read your incisive review of Harris' book. I agree 100%. Please do not take Harris to be speaking for neuroscience or neuroscientists. As far as I can tell he does not lead a lab and is not a tenured or tenure-track professor of neuroscience at any university, although he did get a PhD in Neuroscience from UCLA after getting a BA in philosophy, according to wikipedia, and has a couple of scientific papers using MRI to look at religious belief in the brain. He seems to primarily be a writer of provocative books who has some background in neuroscience. But judging from the way he writes about brain events in his pugilistic pamphlet 'Free Will,' it is not a very nuanced view of the astounding complexity of causation among neurons. I think most people in the neuroscience trenches running experiments day in and day out would have assumed he was more of a philosopher or public debater than a professor of neuroscience.

I just have to add that I think rational fundamentalism is driven by the same sort of dogmatism and need for certainty that drives religious fundamentalism. I think attacking religion as Harris does in his other books hurts the ideals of the Enlightenment rather than fosters them. Yes, the old ontologies of religion may be wrong, but that does not mean that religion is not a valuable system to guide people's lives. Science can only talk about what is. When religion makes wrong claims about what is, it is fair game to debunk those claims. But science must remain largely mute concerning questions of how best to live, and concerning what is good or right or beautiful or ideal. Moreover, religion need not limit itself to questions of aesthetics and morality. I think we are in fact witnessing a gradual but fundamental shift in the West away from basing religion upon belief, and toward religions based on practices that cultivate the mind, as has long been central in Eastern cultures. Interestingly, most of these practices involve training the attentional circuits of the brain, whether attending to the breath, a mandela, or mantra, or a yogic pose. So rather than dismiss or try to destroy religion, I would think a true advocate of the scientific worldview would humbly recognize the limits of science, and would want to foster religious or spiritual practices that are consistent with science.

Eddy, I think you're being uncharitable to Harris' position which is really just plain old classical no free will incompatibilism. You seem to conflate his incompatibilism (and the incompatibilism of others in scientific fields) with his scientific background. But really, there are respected philosophers who make the exact same points. Indeed, the rebuttal you linked above demonstrates some first class explanations of such positions that would surely be approved by the Pereblooms and G Strawsons of the world.

I sense a strategy among compatibilists to create this false dichotomy between “philosophical” compatibilism and “scientific” incompatibilism as a way to sneakily discredit incompatibilsm as somehow less nuanced or sophisticated philosophically.

Peter, thanks! And no, I do not take Harris to be speaking for neuroscientists in general (my own experience is that most practicing neuroscientists do not fall into the willusionist trap).

Brent, if you haven't read Harris' book, please look at it before you say I'm being uncharitable. He mis-describes compatibilism before saying it's a loser position. And he does not do justice to the incisive arguments of skeptics like Pereboom and Strawson. I do not lump together scientific skeptics and philosophical skeptics. On the contrary, I want to help people see that the latter's position is not bolstered by the scientific evidence the former offer. The scientific skeptics lump together a variety of arguments that need to be teased apart and considered individually, along with the evidence presented to support each. (See my "Is Free Will an Illusion?)

I have read the Harris book. I don't think incompatibilists necessarily have to define compatibilisim the way compatibilists do. Of course someone who thinks compatibilism is muddled thinking is not going to describe the position in a flattering light. I think I might have read your cited paper, I'll look over it again. I'll also look up your review of the Harris book, because I am interested to see in specifics what is so incorrect about Harris' portrayal of compatibilsm.

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