Skip to content
February 4, 2012 / compassioninpolitics

Criticism of Daniel Dennets view of Freedom, Determinism, and the Human Mind

As one critic put it; to capture our humanity Dennett must account for more freedom than that of a chemically switched cell, a photographically responsive flower, or a clever rat. Even more freedom than possessed by smart dogs or chimps is involved in moral freedom—in ethical praising and blaming. Dennett’s evolutionary psychology is not enough to account for moral freedom.

Behaviorism and neuroscience do not really eat away at the philosophical estate, as Dennett claims, because they do not take seriously Kant’s arguments that to treat oneself as a rational agent (not just as a cognitive creature) one must assume that one’s reason has a practical application or, equivalently, that one has a will. But one cannot assume a rational will in oneself without already presupposing “the idea of freedom,” the free endorsement of warranted beliefs, including beliefs about one’s own nature. So, to regard oneself as acting (not merely behaving) requires the actor to presume his or her freely chosen rational endorsement of beliefs, values, and actions. Morally accountable freedom is the form of the thought of oneself as a practically rational agent. If one were not practically rational, what would be the point of Dennett’s worry—his book?

The capacity to avoid fate has been evolving for billions of years, Dennett reminds us. Through the operation of natural selection organisms evolve greater degrees of fate-avoiding freedom. A crude kind of fate-avoiding is already programmed into primitive organisms as a chemical switch that responds to danger. Sophisticated fate-avoiders operate with internal “hypothesis-considering” strategies; they take up an “intentional stance” toward themselves and others.

Primitive fate-avoiders are programmed with a single, direct way to avoid harmful effects of causes. Sophisticated choosers, on the other hand, can invent novel ways to avoid the usual effects of causes. There is no conflict, Dennett points out, between being an inventor of fate-avoiding strategies and the existence of determined causes of effects (which may or may not be avoided). Primitive “situation-action machines” have genetically memetically learned hypothetical design strategies: “Would X, Y or Z best avoid an otherwise bad fate in this situation?” Such a reflective selection of a response to determined causes assumes a value posited for “best” and a prediction of the consequences of X, Y, and Z, among other things. programmed simple rules: “When P happens, do Y in order to avoid its usual consequences.” Sophisticated “choice-machines,” however have memetically learned hypothetical design strategies: “Would X, Y or Z best avoid an otherwise bad fate in this situation?” Such a reflective selection of a response to determined causes assumes a value posited for “best” and a prediction of the consequences of X, Y, and Z, among other things.

Roger William Gilman (full article in free PDF download)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: