Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Daniel Denett on Free Will & Determinism

Of all modern philosophers Daniel Dennett may be my favorite. He has repeatedly written on topics that are, in my opinion, some of the most relevant to understanding the human condition. His books Consciousness Explained, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Freedom Evolves and Elbow Room are among some of my top rated and influential books I have read in my life. His insights are very keen and he does an excellent job of getting past the holdovers of the old ways of looking at things while keeping central themes relevant. His familiarness with evolutionary biology and pragmatic approach to really answering questions sets him apart from many other philosophers. Below is a lecture he gave at Edinburgh University concerning free will and determinism and he rightly shows that these are in fact two separate concepts.

Something else I find fascinating here is the use of the key texts that made morals relevant to Stoic philosophers like Epictetus. The crux is in the pursuit of what we have determined as a good based on imperfect knowledge the will to get and avoid that which we deem as fitting into such categories. What I admire so much about Dennett is that while he takes the arguments of those who propose some unlikely philosophical situation seriously (Laplace's Demon), he never the less bases his own answer in remembering what we face in reality. He formulates his answer not in hypotheticals, but instead in the way things are. He points out that it is an important fact that we, as agents, do not have perfect knowledge and that our clear understanding of good and bad decisions is based on our proficiency in considering what information we have and using that to attain or avoid that which we are confronted with.

With this all said I need to get back to writing about moral agency.


  1. Great job summarizing why Dennett is the best. I was really glad you found this and posted it, because reading Freedom Evolves at the same time, it is good to see his whole argument at once, and now I can read it piece by piece.

    One question. What were you referring to here: "Something else I find fascinating here is the use of the key texts that made morals relevant to Stoic philosophers like Epictetus."? What texts did he refer to? I think I missed something.

    Thanks for finding the great video.

  2. That's me just not completing a thought while in the middle of a sentence. The word 'texts' has no business being in that sentence, and it should read 'concepts' or even 'phrases'. I'm not sure how the word texts got in there, all I can think is that I changed ideas mid sentence.


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