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Two of the four horsemen of the new atheist Apocalypse clash over free will

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Reviewing new atheist neuroscientist Sam Harris’s Free Will, Daniel Dennett finds he can’t quite accept the obvious implications of the Darwinian atheist claim that we lack free will:

By all means, let’s join hands and reform the legal system, reduce its excesses and restore a measure of dignity—and freedom!—to those whom the state must punish. But the idea that all punishment is, in the end, unjustifiable and should be abolished because nobody is ever really responsible, because nobody has “real” free will is not only not supported by science or philosophical argument; it is blind to the chilling lessons of the not so distant past. Do we want to medicalize all violators of the laws, giving them indefinitely large amounts of involuntary “therapy” in “asylums” (the poor dears, they aren’t responsible, but for the good of the society we have to institutionalize them)? I hope not.

But Dennett does not here admit the half of it. It means that no moral arguments can be advanced against any behaviour at all.

The sort of people attracted to Harris and Dennett are highly moralist puppets, actually; their selfish genes seem forever to hoist their joints in the direction of denouncing this traditional moral belief or that one (while advancing, of course, a new one).

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Richard Dawkins, one of the four horsemen of the new atheist apocalypse (no, really!), discovered this the hard way when he implied that some moral lapse, not usually seen as a big deal, wasn’t a big deal (yes, yes, the elevator of evil, remember?) So Dawkins, who was not even in the elevator at the time, ended up in the doghouse with many of his own fans. Like we said, they are highly moralist puppets.

One suspects that for some, the worst part of taking no free will seriously is not losing a sense of control or letting thugs run free. They might adapt quickly to all that. The problem is, they can no longer strike moral poses with the accustomed enjoyment of their own righteousness.

Yes, it is true. The death of free will is the death of righteousness. For the typical new atheist, that spells the death of self-righteousness when attacking others.

Harris can live with that:

These concerns, while not irrational, have nothing to do with the philosophical or scientific merits of the case. They also arise out of a failure to understand the practical consequences of my view. I am no more inclined to release dangerous criminals back onto our streets than you are.

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Four Horsemen before PR hired/Durer (1471–1528)

Dangerous what? The only way to make a no-free-will society work is to incarcerate everyone, the way a chem lab stores all chemicals safely. Release safely as needed. Neither the thug, nor the social reformer, nor the chemicals attract any praise or blame, only monitoring and intervention when needed. Harris goes on:

In my book, I argue that an honest look at the causal underpinnings of human behavior, as well as at one’s own moment-to-moment experience, reveals free will to be an illusion. (I would say the same about the conventional sense of “self,” but that requires more discussion, and it is the topic of my next book.) I also claim that this fact has consequences—good ones, for the most part—and that is another reason it is worth exploring. But I have not argued for my position primarily out of concern for the consequences of accepting it. And I believe you have.

Just think: These people are our moral and intellectual superiors. 😉

See also: I will means something after all

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Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan

jstanley01 (#12) Very interesting interpretation of the meaning of the text. Thanks. BTW, these days I don't see this kind of detailed approach to reading any allegedly 'serious' text. Most times we tend to fly over the statements, without considering the potential implications of the individual words. Dionisio
“In my book [which I did not decide to write], I argue [based on rationales that that I did not think up] that an honest look [which represents no virtue on my part] at the causal underpinnings of human behavior [atoms randomly bumping into one another, that is], as well as at one’s own moment-to-moment experience [using the 3rd person singular pronoun in a vain and futile attempt to escape from my own vise], reveals free will to be an illusion [I just had to say that].”
Eugen (#5) These two chatbots seem to pay more attention to the meaning of the words they say, than we humans usually do :( Dionisio
BTW, just noticed the time stamp on my previous comment shows 1:40am That seems to correspond to the time zone associated with UD, but I'm in the time zone GMT+1. It's a clear morning here. Appearances can be deceiving. Someone could have noticed that time stamp and thought "poor guy, reading/writing comments instead of sleeping" :( Well, now you know, it's a "time-zone difference" kind of issue ;-) However, most probably no one noticed that irrelevant detail ;-) Oh well, who cares? ;-) Y'all have a wonderful day! Dionisio
JDH (#2) Your conclusion seems very logical. Also, you seem to be bothered by something you and I can observe around us all the time: our human tendency to minimize (maybe even eliminate) the time required in order to read carefully what is written out there. In this age of quick exchange of messages, very few seem to care about logics or meaning at all. There is some hope, because I used to be one of the herd, who did not care about taking the time to analyze and interpret anything I read or heard. I basically swallowed -without chewing- any information that was presented to me. Thanks God that's passé, history, over. His love and grace opened my eyes and gave me a sense of meaning. But now, I see the same happening whenever I talk with friends or relatives. No one seems to care about logics or meaning. No time to think, to analyze, to ask questions, to discuss. It's just as if all that matters is to kill the time we have left on this earth. Most everyone seems just concerned about being entertained all the way until the grave. Really sad. So I think I can understand why you are bothered. Perhaps it is going to get worse, before it gets better. Dionisio
"I also claim that this fact has consequences—good ones, for the most part—and that is another reason it is worth exploring." Given his premises, what in the world can he possibly mean by the word "good" in that sentence? I assume it means "that which I prefer." Indeed -- again given his premises -- I can't fathom what else it could mean. What is not clear to me is why he expects us to care about what he prefers. Barry Arrington
Greetings. JDH, thank you for helping a slow thinker like me (#2). I wonder why people have discussions with people who even doubt the existence of the ability to choose (or intentionality), especially in the name of reason and truth. Are they not telling me that they do not choose to weigh their words before they deliver them to their subjects, whoever they may be, when trying to adhere to correct reasoning? Are they not saying that carefully reasoned out arguments are not intentional? I guess anyone ignoring them was never their choice. seventrees
JDH (#2): Wonderful! :) gpuccio
Even two chatbots seem smarter than some of the atheist writers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnzlbyTZsQY :) Eugen
The absurd irony of one conscious mind trying to convice another conscious mind that neither is capable of free choice is too rich. The mind boggles. I have always found it interesting that both the hard-core materialist determinist atheists AND the staunch TULIP predestinarian Christians wind up at the same (erroneous) metaphysical conclusion that we have no free will. If your bedfellow is that diametrically opposite, perhaps you should examine your bed... reductio
Nullasalus, think Henson-free Muppets. News
"In my book, I argue that an honest look at the causal underpinnings of human behavior, as well as at one’s own moment-to-moment experience, reveals free will to be an illusion." OK. I'll bite and point out the glaringly obvious contradiction. It seems absolutely unavoidable, that this sentence implies with certainty that there is: 1) A Dishonest Way 2) An Honest Way of looking "...at the causal underpinnings of human behaviour...", and that making the correct choice of the two, "..reveals free will to be an illusion." Which of course demands that we assume there is a WHO or WHAT that is doing the choosing. The fact that people do not see this self contradictory drivel for the confusion it is and applaud it as good moral reasoning only continues to prove the scripture that "...the fool hath said in his heart, there is no God." I don't blame Sam Harris for being a fool; he will be judged. But it really bothers me that a large number of gullible people choose to be fooled by his foolishness. JDH
Amazing, isn't it? Watching two blind automatons with only illusory selves at best gesture wildly at each other as they attempt to pointlessly alter each other's imaginary interpretation of purposeless mechanical outcome. This seems easily solved. Dan says that all meaning is derived, and none of it intrinsic - it's assigned by the brain, which itself only gets meaning via assignment from another brain. So, Dan can assign a new meaning to whatever Sam writes - namely, that Sam isn't disagreeing with him at all. And Sam? Sam's a materialist buddhist. He should be relinquishing all attachment, including attachment to things like the outcomes of arguments - because, after all, there is no Dan, and there is no argument. I'd say it's a win-win, but those require minds and actors, and neither gent ultimately believes in the objective existence of either. nullasalus

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