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Dennett vs. Harris on Free Will
https://www.booktalk.org/dennett-vs-harris-on-free-will-t16599.html
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Author:  Dexter [ Sun Jan 26, 2014 5:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Dennett vs. Harris on Free Will

Dennett wrote a lengthy review of Harris's book Free Will (pdf file)

http://www.naturalism.org/Dennett_refle ... e_Will.pdf

I've read Harris's book, the main argument is pretty straightforward -- Harris argues for the hardcore "free will is an illusion" position, Dennett argues for the "compatibilist" position defending at least some notion of free will.

I think these two sides are inevitably talking past each other in these debates -- Harris won't accept what Dennett calls "free will" as the proper definition. I sort of agreed with Harris that compatibilists are ducking the real question, but Dennett also points out some problems with Harris's presentation, especially when he is trying to rescue moral responsibility and sometimes is unable to avoid sounding as if there is still free will.

Author:  DWill [ Sun Jan 26, 2014 5:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Dennett vs. Harris on Free Will

I've always had difficulty understanding what's being argued in the free will debate. It could be a block that I have. The phrase is confusing from the start and makes me think of straw man--just who is it who said that will is free, if by free we mean totally free, without influence? Does anyone assert that? One the other side, has anyone asserted that we're robotically controlled, completely predetermined in all our actions? Maybe Harris does, I haven't read about the latest debate yet.

Author:  Dexter [ Sun Jan 26, 2014 6:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Dennett vs. Harris on Free Will

DWill wrote:
I've always had difficulty understanding what's being argued in the free will debate. It could be a block that I have. The phrase is confusing from the start and makes me think of straw man--just who is it who said that will is free, if by free we mean totally free, without influence? Does anyone assert that? One the other side, has anyone asserted that we're robotically controlled, completely predetermined in all our actions? Maybe Harris does, I haven't read about the latest debate yet.


It is hard to follow, that's part of the debate, trying to set the definitions straight of what we mean -- or should mean -- by free will.

Harris is basically giving the standard argument that if you accept a deterministic universe (even allowing for say, random quantum events), then any decision is based on your brain state at the time, which was caused by your previous brain state, and so on (and of course your environment and other choices affect your brain state). So there's no room for "free" choice outside of this causal chain, even though we have the "illusion" that we could have acted differently.

Dennett is trying to argue for a notion of free will that is consistent with determinism, and is basically saying that Harris's definition of free will is not a useful one.

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