Compatibilist views on free will: some apparent inconsistencies in approach

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ruby sparks
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Compatibilist views on free will: some apparent inconsistencies in approach

Post by ruby sparks » Thu May 04, 2017 9:49 am

It strikes me that some free will compatibilists (including but not solely) Daniel Dennett, are guilty of inconsistency, perhaps even unwitting hypocrisy, by on the one hand asking us to take free will either essentially at face value or for supposed utilitarian or social purposes, and on the other dismissing theistic explanations out of hand.

Were there to be consistency, wouldn't we hear Dennett (and others) saying stuff like.......this or that type of god exists and is 'the variety of god worth having' and appearing in dubious video interviews warning us of the supposedly terrible consequences of telling people there is no god?

http://bigthink.com/videos/daniel-denne ... urosurgeon

Watching that, I am reminded of this anecdote (which may be apocryphal):

"When, in the 1880s, the Bishop of Birmingham’s wife received information that Charles Darwin was claiming that human beings were descended from monkeys, she is reported to have said to her husband, ‘My dear, let us hope it is not true; but, if it is true, let us hope it will not become generally known.’"

When it comes to religion, Dennett prefers, I believe, to deliver what he sees as the cold, hard 'truths' straight down the barrel. When it comes to free will, he seems to prefer sugar coating.
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Post by subsymbolic » Fri May 05, 2017 9:11 pm

If you read 'Breaking The Spell' you see Dennett undertaking precisely the same naturalisation of religious belief that he undertakes on the belief that beliefs are causal from Elbow Room onwards.

While Intentional Systems Theory, as ever, does the heavy lifting in both cases, the underlying insight is unchanged: Cranes not skyhooks. First he asks how either phenomenon can be explained by cranes without recourse to skyhooks and then he asks if what is left after this naturalisation is worth holding on to. There's nothing hypocritical about coming to two different conclusions.

Dennett can be accused of many things, inconsistency on this is not one of them. His position on that has remained entirely consistent from Content and Consciousness to the present.
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Post by ruby sparks » Sat May 06, 2017 12:25 am

When you say either phenomenon, do you mean free will and religion, or free will and God? I don't think I've heard Dennett trying to either justify the existence of the latter (God) or warn of the dangers of telling people it's probably based on a false belief. What I have heard him do is bend over backwards to try to protect their belief in free will, because, he feels, people will do bad things if they don't believe it. It's strikingly similar to the fear-mongering that is aired about atheism.

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Post by subsymbolic » Sat May 06, 2017 1:14 am

[quote=""ruby sparks""]When you say either phenomenon, do you mean free will and religion, or free will and God? I don't think I've heard Dennett trying to either justify the existence of the latter (God) or warn of the dangers of telling people it's probably based on a false belief. What I have heard him do is bend over backwards to try to protect their belief in free will, because, he feels, people will do bad things if they don't believe it. It's strikingly similar to the fear-mongering that is aired about atheism.[/quote]

The words 'religious belief' seem pretty unambiguous to me. Whose belief in free will is he bending over backwards to protect? Dennett's naturalistic account of free will isn't exactly commonly held outside of the philosophical community.

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Post by ruby sparks » Sun May 07, 2017 10:25 am

[quote=""subsymbolic""]The words 'religious belief' seem pretty unambiguous to me.[/quote]

Ok. I was mostly thinking of a belief in god. That said, that's only the particular type of theistic religious belief and/or explanation I was aiming at.

It seems to me that when it comes to that belief (and indeed other religious beliefs) Dennett is pretty much dismissive about whether the beliefs are actually true, and gives it/them short shrift. Hence the title of that (imo somewhat patronising) book, 'Breaking the Spell'. Furthermore, I have seen him call a belief in a belief a problem when it's theism.

And yet here he is expressing his belief in a belief in free will. Bad things will happen in human society if we stop believing. It's very similar to claims made about the perils of atheism.

[quote=""subsymbolic""]Whose belief in free will is he bending over backwards to protect? Dennett's naturalistic account of free will isn't exactly commonly held outside of the philosophical community.[/quote]

In that video he said that scientists were telling 'people' they don't have free will and he picked Joe Public in his (imo ill-conceived) intuition pump. As such, it seems his focus was on wider society and what might happen in it as a result of people losing a belief in free will. Note that his argument was not that the scientists were right or wrong about the existence or non-existence of free will per se, but that bad things would happen.
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Post by subsymbolic » Sun May 07, 2017 6:22 pm

[quote=""ruby sparks""]
subsymbolic;670637 wrote:The words 'religious belief' seem pretty unambiguous to me.
Ok. I was mostly thinking of a belief in god. That said, that's only the particular type of theistic religious belief and/or explanation I was aiming at.

It seems to me that when it comes to that belief (and indeed other religious beliefs) Dennett is pretty much dismissive about whether the beliefs are actually true, and gives it/them short shrift. Hence the title of that (imo somewhat patronising) book, 'Breaking the Spell'. Furthermore, I have seen him call a belief in a belief a problem when it's theism.

And yet here he is expressing his belief in a belief in free will. Bad things will happen in human society if we stop believing. It's very similar to claims made about the perils of atheism.

[quote=""subsymbolic""]Whose belief in free will is he bending over backwards to protect? Dennett's naturalistic account of free will isn't exactly commonly held outside of the philosophical community.[/quote]

In that video he said that scientists were telling 'people' they don't have free will and he picked Joe Public in his (imo ill-conceived) intuition pump. As such, it seems his focus was on wider society and what might happen in it as a result of people losing a belief in free will. Note that his argument was not that the scientists were right or wrong about the existence or non-existence of free will per se, but that bad things would happen.[/QUOTE]

I thought that he went out of his way to emphasise the positive aspects of religion especially as an agent of, as he puts it: 'human group solidity' such a deliberately broad definition certainly covers ethical behaviour altruism and so on. In other words, precisely the utility he mentions for freewill. The bottom line is that Dennett is accutely aware of the strengths and weaknesses of IST and equally aware that all of these areas are facets of the same trick applied unknowingly but effectively by a brain that never gets beyond very well designed and tuned trending towards a lowest energy state.




I agree that it could be interpreted as patronising, but that's always the fate of philosophy when it is applied to well loved 'common sense' shibboleths.

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Post by Copernicus » Sun May 07, 2017 6:53 pm

Ruby, I'm not really sure what your beef is with Daniel Dennett here. That video tells us nothing about his religious arguments per se. It is really about public policy regarding criminal behavior and the effect it has on people to tell them that they don't have "free will". Dennett doesn't even talk about compatibilism directly, although we know that it is his position on the subject of free will. AFAICT, the issue he raises here is more relevant to secular behavior and the ethics of those who tell the public that they don't have "free will", which is a somewhat ambiguous expression. The real issue here is what it means to be responsible for one's actions and how we ought to treat people who behave irresponsibly. Philosophers are supposed to help us understand such issues, and that is all he seems to be doing.

Can you explain more clearly what you think the inconsistency is here? I honestly don't see him as patronizing anyone here.

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Post by ruby sparks » Sun May 07, 2017 8:33 pm

[quote=""Copernicus""]Ruby, I'm not really sure what your beef is with Daniel Dennett here. That video tells us nothing about his religious arguments per se. It is really about public policy regarding criminal behavior and the effect it has on people to tell them that they don't have "free will". Dennett doesn't even talk about compatibilism directly, although we know that it is his position on the subject of free will. AFAICT, the issue he raises here is more relevant to secular behavior and the ethics of those who tell the public that they don't have "free will", which is a somewhat ambiguous expression. The real issue here is what it means to be responsible for one's actions and how we ought to treat people who behave irresponsibly. Philosophers are supposed to help us understand such issues, and that is all he seems to be doing.

Can you explain more clearly what you think the inconsistency is here? I honestly don't see him as patronizing anyone here.[/quote]

He's not patronising anyone here. Indeed any patronising or dismissing which, imo, he engages in regarding theistic beliefs (including the one I'm focusing on, the belief in god) is to some extent a side (if not unrelated) issue to what I'm getting at, which is merely the curious inconsistency of one the one hand treating one issue one way and another (in some key ways very similar issue) in another way entirely.

In a nutshell, it's as if he's on a mission to rescue a belief in free will, while being apparently happy to bin a belief in god, using two different standards.
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Post by ruby sparks » Sun May 07, 2017 8:38 pm

[quote=""subsymbolic""]I agree that it could be interpreted as patronising, but that's always the fate of philosophy when it is applied to well loved 'common sense' shibboleths.[/quote]

Possibly, but look at it this way, he hasn't written a populist book entitled 'Breaking the Spell' of Free will. He talks like some kind of saviour of that well-loved common sense shibboleth, and not just in that particular video. He has, elsewhere, spoken of the 'importance' of people believing in free will.

This criticism is at times aimed at compatibilists generally, so it's not just Dennett who annoys me. That said, prior to recently watching that (imo cringeworthy) video, and while not particularly ever agreeing with him about free will, I at least had him at about 7 out of ten on a scale of 'possibly worth paying attention to' and afterwards I had trouble awarding him 2.5.
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Post by ruby sparks » Mon May 08, 2017 10:19 am

[quote=""ruby sparks""]It (the video) is really about public policy regarding criminal behavior and the effect it has on people to tell them that they don't have "free will". [/quote]

It wouldn't be so bad if it really did represent a balanced and/or well-informed view on that (which is a nuanced and complicated question that we really don't know the answer to) and not just his own polemics.

Dennett basically just pulls a skewed scenario, pretty much, in the final analysis, out of his arse. Calling it an intuition pump causes me to call into question the value and reliability of such an approach (and the use of the term) in principle, philosophically-speaking.

(In which scenario, incidentally and tangentally, it appears that our exercise of and belief in free will is highly suggestible and heavily dependent on our believing in it).

Worse, he then compares real-world (presumably at least honest) scientists telling people they don't have free will with the deliberately lying scientists in his scenario.

Worse again, he claims to have gleaned the factual basis for his extrapolated scenario from what he calls an 'important paper' that has been 'successfully replicated'.

Ok, so the first thing is that no matter what that study suggests, he's clearly cherry-picking one negative study (Vohs & Schooler: 2008) to justify his personally-chosen case, given that there are other studies out there indicating a potentially positive effect of a reduced societal belief in free will (a reduction in retributive thinking and behaviour for example) and other possible benefits (acknowledged by Vohs & Schooler) such as an increase in compassion.

Secondly, the study sample size was arguably small enough not to be used to draw 'important' conclusions from.

The third thing is that (or so I read) even the authors of the study acknowledge that the effect size was smaller than reported in the final paper (see link below).

Fourthly, with all such studies, the general and wider interpretation of the results is arguably more open and slightly less conclusive than he suggests, for a variety of reasons. This is also true of other studies Dennett has cited on the general topic of free will. Imo, he has a tendency to read things a certain way that suits him.

Fifthly, it is not yet clear if the study has been successfully replicated:
"We learn for example that the original effect was not replicated, just as in our own study."
http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsc ... on-review/

Sixthly, that study (link below) was potentially flawed because all the participants were, apparently (so I hear, in the above blog and elsewhere) practicing mormons, something not originally declared by the authors.
http://assets.csom.umn.edu/assets/91974.pdf
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Post by ruby sparks » Mon May 08, 2017 1:04 pm

Whoops. Misattributed quote tag. I was replying to Cop, not myself.

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Post by Jobar » Mon May 08, 2017 1:27 pm

Not necessarily defending Dennett, but my own view has long been that if an individual's behavior is not completely predictable even if/when all relevant environmental, social, and genetic factors are known (presuming that's possible), then such unpredictability might as well be called 'free will'. By any other name, some sort of psychological butterfly effect still produces the same results.

I rather doubt that there would be any large, sudden sociological changes resulting from any philosophical 'proof' that there is no free will; most people would simply ignore it. But AFAICT, there isn't any general agreement within the 'philosophical community' concerning the status of free will, anyway.

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Post by ruby sparks » Mon May 08, 2017 1:52 pm

[quote=""Jobar""]Not necessarily defending Dennett, but my own view has long been that if an individual's behavior is not completely predictable even if/when all relevant environmental, social, and genetic factors are known (presuming that's possible), then such unpredictability might as well be called 'free will'. By any other name, some sort of psychological butterfly effect still produces the same results.

I rather doubt that there would be any large, sudden sociological changes resulting from any philosophical 'proof' that there is no free will; most people would simply ignore it. But AFAICT, there isn't any general agreement within the 'philosophical community' concerning the status of free will, anyway.[/quote]

I largely agree, and I personally would not be suggesting that there be a worldwide announcement that free will does not exist. For one thing, nobody is totally sure, not even philosophers (who are arguably capable, in principle, of having a firmer grip on the problem than scientists). And in any case, if and when the general, public view of free will changes, it will almost certainly be gradual (and has been moving in the direction away from libertarian or libertarian-esque free will for some time now in any case, in many countries, by which I mean the judicial courts in many countries, seemingly more for scientific reasons than philosophical ones, but probably a bit of both).

My own view, when I'm feeling optimistic, is that it would be possible to integrate and absorb what would be a further blow to our collective egos into a better understanding of what our 'insignificant' place and role in the universe actually are, in much the same way as it has been possible (for many at least) to absorb the news that there's probably no god, that we are descended from apes and that we are not at the centre of the universe. I feel we should not, in any case, be encouraged to shy away from the apparent truth about such things just because of a fear of supposed consequences, and that, whether he admits it or not, is partly what Dennett's scary stories are about, imo.

In my opinion, fwiw, compatibilism (particularly Dennett's) is contrived wordplay, partly at least (demonstrably) to stave off the possible outfall from people finding out that what they thought was gold is in fact iron pyrites, or merely gold-plated tungsten. Tungsten is arguably very worth having, but why call it gold when you're selling it? :)

In any case, I'm not doing the case for or against free will here, or the pros and cons of the use of certain terms for supposed varieties of it, I'm just questioning what seems to me to be an inconsistent and ill-founded general approach. Beliefs in free will, as with beliefs in god, may carry both 'good' and 'bad' consequences (for hoomanity) and nobody knows what a world devoid of either would be like. Dennett appears to use Objective TruthTM as a measure for assessing one (and finds it lacking and inadequate) and subjectively supposed utility/pragmatism for the other (and finds it desirable and adequate).
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Post by Copernicus » Tue May 09, 2017 11:10 pm

Ruby, your approach to all of this is a bit confusing to me, because you start the OP with a claim about inconsistency, but you never really give any clear examples of inconsistent behavior. Rather, you make a rather vague reference to how he makes theists feel with his criticisms of religion, but you don't really go into any specifics on that score. All we have is his criticism of psychologists who talk about free will in a way that he thinks is dangerous. And then you jump around a lot, making references to snippets of things he has said in different things that he has written, which makes it hard to focus on any specific issue you have.

What you seem to want to talk about is your negative feelings about compatibilism and compatibilists. Compatibilism is just the claim that there is no conflict between what we conventionally mean by "free will" and determinism. Do you see a conflict there, or do you agree with compatibilists? If you perceive a conflict, can you give us an alternative to compatibilism that you think makes more sense?

ETA: I've read his Intuition Pumps book and found the term a very useful metaphor. If you have a hard time understanding what he means by that term, you should take a glance at the first part of that book.

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Post by ruby sparks » Wed May 10, 2017 8:17 am

[quote=""Copernicus""].....you start the OP with a claim about inconsistency, but you never really give any clear examples of inconsistent behavior. [/quote]

Dennett is on record as saying that he believes the world, hypothetically, would be a better place if there was no belief in god, so I think his position on that is pretty clear. In that video, he seems to be pretty clearly taking an opposite view of a hypothetical world without a belief in free will. I don't think he or anyone is at all in a strong position to know if either belief (or belief in belief) is warranted, and as such he's largely just expressing opposing preferences.

[quote=""Copernicus""]What you seem to want to talk about is your negative feelings about compatibilism and compatibilists.[/quote]

No, that's not what what I wanted to talk about when starting the thread.

[quote=""Copernicus""]Compatibilism is just the claim that there is no conflict between what we conventionally mean by "free will" and determinism. Do you see a conflict there, or do you agree with compatibilists? If you perceive a conflict, can you give us an alternative to compatibilism that you think makes more sense?[/quote]

As I've said, I would disagree with compatibilists. Imo, the two things they find compatible are actually incompatible. However, that's a slightly different topic, and it's one that I've discussed many times, and it goes in circles. I'm not especially keen to do it again.

[quote=""Copernicus""]ETA: I've read his Intuition Pumps book and found the term a very useful metaphor. If you have a hard time understanding what he means by that term, you should take a glance at the first part of that book.[/quote]

I didn't say I had a hard time understanding the term. I said that that one would cause me to question the value and reliability of concocting them as a method. Let me put it this way, I (if I was for example a theist with a different view to Dennett) could as easily concoct an intuition pump to make up a scary story about a man who, on becoming an atheist, did bad things, to illustrate the importance of a societal belief in god, and I could further back up my 'intuition' by cherry-picking an 'important' study which, I could claim, supported it (one where religiosity positively correlated to lower criminality).
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Post by The AntiChris » Wed May 10, 2017 10:57 am

[quote=""ruby sparks""]
As I've said, I would disagree with compatibilists. Imo, the two things they find compatible are actually incompatible. [/quote]

I don't think Dennett's version of free will could reasonably be said to be incompatible with determinism.

By far the greatest objection to Dennett's compatibilist free will is the view that it's not what most people mean by the term "free will".

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Post by ruby sparks » Wed May 10, 2017 1:26 pm

[quote=""The AntiChris""]
ruby sparks;670906 wrote: As I've said, I would disagree with compatibilists. Imo, the two things they find compatible are actually incompatible.
I don't think Dennett's version of free will could reasonably be said to be incompatible with determinism.

By far the greatest objection to Dennett's compatibilist free will is the view that it's not what most people mean by the term "free will".[/QUOTE]

Personally, I would briefly say that his version is, in the final analysis, incompatible, except in the semantic sense of saying 'determined free will' is by definition compatible with 'determined', because the word determined is used in both cases (or merely saying 'compatibilism is compatible' for similar, fairly tautological reasons).

Beyond that, as I said, I'm not particularly interested here in re-running yet another lengthy debate on either free will or compatibilism generally, unless for some specific reason which is relevant (which there may be, I suppose, up to a point) to what the OP is mainly about.

Regarding 'what most people mean by the term free will', I think it's fair to say that if 'most people' means the person in the street who has not given it a lot of philosophical analysis, then there will probably not be one single or coherent version, and indeed many people's versions may vary (for example from culture to culture, as some data suggests) and be somewhat vague and uneven*. Ultimately then, it's not easy to be wholly sure what 'most people's' view of free will is. Polls are tricky because people may interpret questions and scenarios put to them in different ways, may not be fully taking on board fully-determined scenarios taking place in hypothetical worlds, and their detailed reasons for responding one way or another may not be explored.

In saying that, and despite Dennett's occasionally arguing that most people may already hold compatibilist views (which I find unconvincing), I believe it's still fairly uncontentious, for a number of reasons (including how the idea is embedded in language, how arguments have been framed for and against it, how it's been coloured by historical immersion in religion and how it fits with other apparently innate human tendencies such as an arguably linked belief in 'having a self') to say that the view of 'most people' (perhaps particularly 'westerners') is either pretty much libertarian or towards that end of the spectrum, or at least I have never heard a convincing case to the contrary. At the very least I think we could safely say 'many people' and I personally am happy with 'most', which is, as you say, by far the most common objection.

*For example, regarding uneveness, I read of one study which suggested that when it comes to 'bad' deeds, the participants were apparently less willing to take a view that a person 'could not have done otherwise', but when it came to 'good' deeds, they seemed more ok with the idea that the person could not have done otherwise (ie that they were compelled by, for example, conscience or 'good' instinct, such as when for example a mother unthinkingly and spontaneously rushes onto a busy road to rescue a wayward toddler in imminent danger). Which may point up what some people say the 'western' concept of free will is and was mainly about, placing blame for 'bad' things.
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Post by The AntiChris » Wed May 10, 2017 2:32 pm

[quote=""ruby sparks""]
The AntiChris;670910 wrote:
ruby sparks;670906 wrote: As I've said, I would disagree with compatibilists. Imo, the two things they find compatible are actually incompatible.
I don't think Dennett's version of free will could reasonably be said to be incompatible with determinism.

By far the greatest objection to Dennett's compatibilist free will is the view that it's not what most people mean by the term "free will".
Personally, I would say that his version is, in the final analysis, incompatible....[/QUOTE]
What exactly do you think Dennett is suggesting that is incompatible with determinism? Are you aware that his version of free will does not require that one could have done otherwise in precisely the same circumstances?

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Post by ruby sparks » Wed May 10, 2017 2:55 pm

[quote=""The AntiChris""]What exactly do you think Dennett is suggesting that is incompatible with determinism? Are you aware that his version of free will does not require that one could have done otherwise in precisely the same circumstances?[/quote]

Sorry, but I have said at least twice now that I'm not really very inclined to get into why I think compatibilism is a fudge.

Yes, I am familiar with Dennett's arguments on 'not doing otherwise'.

So briefly (again) if, in a given scenario, I could not have done otherwise* (which is incidentally something largely only open to philosophical analysis and not scientific analysis, so we might say it's currently an empirical uncertainty) then I did not have free will in any meaningful sense, nor in the sense that it appears to be widely understood, especially in the 'western' world.

*It would be more accurate and relevant to say that I could not have freely willed to do otherwise, since the 'doing otherwise' is not quite as onerous.

Incidentally, it might be incorrect to say that I could not have freely willed to do otherwise (or merely 'done otherwise'). I am only assuming it here.
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Post by ruby sparks » Wed May 10, 2017 3:51 pm

To recap on the OP: Whatever free will the man in the scenario is meant to be think he has, he does bad things after he is told he doesn't have it. By wider implication, so will other people. The world will not be a better place. This is apparently why people should not be told they don't have it.

It's essentially the same type of argument sometimes used by theists against atheism.
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Post by The AntiChris » Wed May 10, 2017 3:58 pm

[quote=""ruby sparks""]
The AntiChris;670915 wrote:What exactly do you think Dennett is suggesting that is incompatible with determinism? Are you aware that his version of free will does not require that one could have done otherwise in precisely the same circumstances?
Sorry, but I have said at least twice now that I'm not really very inclined to get into why I think compatibilism is a fudge.

Yes, I am familiar with Dennett's arguments on 'not doing otherwise'.

So briefly (again) if, in a given scenario, I could not have done otherwise* (which is incidentally something largely only open to philosophical analysis and not scientific analysis, so we might say it's currently an empirical uncertainty) then I did not have free will in any meaningful sense, nor in the sense that it appears to be widely understood, especially in the 'western' world.

*It would be more accurate and relevant to say that I could not have freely willed to do otherwise, since the 'doing otherwise' is not quite as onerous.

Incidentally, it might be incorrect to say that I could not have freely willed to do otherwise (or merely 'done otherwise'). I am only assuming it here.
[/QUOTE]

Ok. So you're not saying that Dennett's account of free will is incompatible with determinism you'e actually saying that his account of free will does not accord with your understanding of what you/most people(?) mean by the term "free will".

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Post by Copernicus » Wed May 10, 2017 5:27 pm

[quote=""ruby sparks""]
Copernicus;670880 wrote:.....you start the OP with a claim about inconsistency, but you never really give any clear examples of inconsistent behavior.
Dennett is on record as saying that he believes the world, hypothetically, would be a better place if there was no belief in god, so I think his position on that is pretty clear. In that video, he seems to be pretty clearly taking an opposite view of a hypothetical world without a belief in free will. I don't think he or anyone is at all in a strong position to know if either belief (or belief in belief) is warranted, and as such he's largely just expressing opposing preferences. [/quote]
You read something somewhere where Dennett said something against belief in God. OK, not very helpful, but it isn't clear to me that that really encapsulates his rather complex views on the subject. He is a very outspoken atheist, so it isn't hard to quote-mine him on such a subject. I think that his real beef with psychologists is that they don't understand what they are talking about when they use the term "free will", but I agree with you that his concern about the danger is a bit overblown. The question of how much we can hold mentally unstable people responsible for their behavior is a very difficult one. The point is that telling someone that they have no control over bad behavior can be dangerous in some cases, because self-control is the normal method that holds bad impulses in check for most people. Basically, it is telling some people that there is no point in trying to resist those impulses.

[quote=""Copernicus""]What you seem to want to talk about is your negative feelings about compatibilism and compatibilists.
No, that's not what what I wanted to talk about when starting the thread.[/quote]
OK, maybe I jumped to a conclusion based on your frequent references to "compatibilists". The theme seems to worm its way into your thoughts on this subject.
[quote=""Copernicus""]Compatibilism is just the claim that there is no conflict between what we conventionally mean by "free will" and determinism. Do you see a conflict there, or do you agree with compatibilists? If you perceive a conflict, can you give us an alternative to compatibilism that you think makes more sense?
As I've said, I would disagree with compatibilists. Imo, the two things they find compatible are actually incompatible. However, that's a slightly different topic, and it's one that I've discussed many times, and it goes in circles. I'm not especially keen to do it again.[/quote]
Fair enough. I never did figure out what you had in mind about an alternative to compatibilism, but I gave up trying after a while.
[quote=""Copernicus""]ETA: I've read his Intuition Pumps book and found the term a very useful metaphor. If you have a hard time understanding what he means by that term, you should take a glance at the first part of that book.
I didn't say I had a hard time understanding the term. I said that that one would cause me to question the value and reliability of concocting them as a method. Let me put it this way, I (if I was for example a theist with a different view to Dennett) could as easily concoct an intuition pump to make up a scary story about a man who, on becoming an atheist, did bad things, to illustrate the importance of a societal belief in god, and I could further back up my 'intuition' by cherry-picking an 'important' study which, I could claim, supported it (one where religiosity positively correlated to lower criminality).[/quote]
Look, Dennett is very clear about what an "intuition pump" is all about. It is a philosopher's tool for exploring a complex issue. Intuition pumps are actually analogies that can be altered in different ways to make points about the issue. There is nothing wrong with you concocting a different analogy as your own "intuition pump", but don't expect your analysis to be the one that everyone accepts.

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Hermit
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Post by Hermit » Wed May 10, 2017 8:55 pm

[quote=""Copernicus""]...self-control is the normal method that holds bad impulses in check for most people.[/quote]Is it? Admittedly, I have not looked into the issue a great deal, so I'm just speculating now: Two factors seem to be more influential in checking one's undesirable impulses. One is the reasonable assumption that if you live by the sword you die by the sword, or to look at this the other way, do unto others... The other is fear of consequences. For example, how many more speeding offences would occur if it were not for the possibility of getting fined and/or having one's license suspended?

I know I'm going way off topic here, but can't help comment on Cop's comment.

Returning to the scheduled program now. Is Dennett inconsistent by failing to warn us of the supposedly terrible consequences of telling people there is no god? He would be if he also thought that moral behaviour depended on a belief in the existence of one. Although I have not come across the kind of unequivocal, categorical condemnation of religion as can be so easily found in the writings of Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris et al., Dennett does address address the consistency issue, at least implicitly. From Breaking the Spell (courtesy of Wikiquote):
Are we like families in which the adults go through all the motions of believing in Santa Claus for the sake of the kids, and the kids all pretend still to believe in Santa Claus so as not to spoil the adults' fun? If only our current predicament were as innocuous and even comical as that! In the adult world of religion, people are dying and killing, with the moderates cowed into silence by the intransigence of the radicals in their own faiths, and many afraid to acknowledge what they actually believe for fear of breaking Granny's heart, or offending their neighbors to the point of getting run out of town, or worse.

If this is the precious meaning our lives are vouchsafed thanks to our allegiance to one religion or another, it is not such a bargain, in my opinion. Is this the best we can do? Is it not tragic that so many people around the world find themselves enlisted against their will in a conspiracy of silence, either because they secretly believe that most of the world's population is wasting their lives in delusion (but they are too tenderhearted — or devious — to say so), or because they secretly believe that their own tradition is just such a delusion (but they fear for their own safety if they admit it)?
As for the concept of compatibilism, I agree with Ruby; this is not the thread to discuss it.

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Jobar
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Post by Jobar » Wed May 10, 2017 10:27 pm

Without theists desperately attempting to exonerate God from having created evil, and to solve the Riddle of Epicurus, I rather doubt that the concept of free will would get much attention from philosophers. It might not have a name, even.

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Post by ruby sparks » Wed May 10, 2017 11:51 pm

[quote=""Copernicus""]You read something somewhere where Dennett said something against belief in God. OK, not very helpful, but it isn't clear to me that that really encapsulates his rather complex views on the subject. He is a very outspoken atheist, so it isn't hard to quote-mine him on such a subject.
[/quote]

What I said was that he is on record as saying that he believes the world, hypothetically, would be a better place if there was no belief in god. In a 2013 BBC HARDtalk interview Dennett was asked at the outset if it was fair to say that he believes the world would be a much better place if we were all atheists and he said yes. His only caveat was that there could still be secular institutions, but not ones involving a belief in god, so this caveat did not essentially change the nature of his answer, nor did his later saying that religions (which may or may not be the same item, since at one point he refers to the institutions rather than the beliefs in god) are not all forces for harm, since all he was saying was that he believed the world would be a better place without any beliefs in god. In fact he agreed that he believed it would be a much better place, which is slightly more than I had attributed to him.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VXSrPb6nbUE
Last edited by ruby sparks on Thu May 11, 2017 12:30 am, edited 23 times in total.

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