Dan Dennett reviews Sam Harris' book Free Will
Sam Harris is adept at making extremely persuasive arguments, but he also has a habit of using faulty reasoning in some of those arguments, faults which aren't so obvious unless you have philosophical training. Then you will see how bad some of Harris' arguments are. That's what happened when Dan Dennett reviewed Sam Harris' book Free Will. His review is very specific in that it only critiques Harris' views on compatibilitism, the free will flavor that Dennett espouses. Regardless of whether you agree with compatibilitism or not, the review is a joy to read.

http://www.naturalism.org/Dennett_reflec...e_Will.pdf [PDF]
Thanks Lije for sharing this. Never before have I seen someone accuse their interlocutor of knocking down strawmen, with so much flourish as Dennett does here when he credits Harris with this curious tactic of heaping scorn on daft doctrines of his own devising while ignoring reasonable compatibilist versions of the same ideas. Following are some notes, listing the ideas which both Dennett and Harris consider 'daft', and also the claims of Harris for which Dennett presents counterpoints. Some of the references below are provided by Dennett in his essay, but I've also included his quotes (and those of others) from elsewhere where they seem to have been more succinctly stated. Italics are used below only for direct quotes and the rest are paraphrases. The lists are suggestive rather than exhaustive, and though Dennett seems to have the last word due to the way the notes are ordered, this is meant only to be a starting volley in a conversation.

Notions both Dennett and Harris reject

1. Cartesian Dualism (Paul Bloom explains here why the current scientific consensus rejects it.)

2. Ultimate Authorship/Ultimate Responsibility/Agent Causation (This notion is rendered untenable by the ubiquitous observation of nexus causality.)

3. Quantum indeterminacy is an exception to physical laws. (To say that the laws of quantum mechanics are of a different category than physical laws, can readily be shown to be an instance of special pleading.)

4. Punitive excesses (Dennett, while endorsing consequentialist arguments for retributive punishment, rejecting gratuitous excesses while administering such punishment, and rejects the notion of punishment as noble in itself.)

Claims of Harris challenged by Dennett :

1. Most people are incompatibilists (those who believe that being caused means not being free).

The following study suggests otherwise :
Nahmias, Eddy, et al. "Surveying freedom: Folk intuitions about free will and moral responsibility." Philosophical Psychology 18.5 (2005): 561-584.
Quoting from the article, the study by Nahmias et al. 2005 found substantial majorities (between 60 and 80%) in agreement with propositions that are compatibilist in outlook.

2. Since 'free will' does not possess the properties it was commonly assumed to, it must be regarded as non-existent.

This is no more reasonable than the suggestion that 'sunsets' and 'colors' are not real because both phenomena were the subject of longstanding misunderstandings.
From the essay: When we found out that the sun does not revolve around the earth, we didn’t then insist that there is no such thing as the sun (because what the folk mean by “sun” is “that bright thing that goes around the earth”). Now that we understand what sunsets are, we don’t call them illusions. They are real phenomena that can mislead the naive.

3. Indeterminacy (quantum or otherwise) of the outcomes of actions, means that we have no responsibility for those actions.

The two-lottery tickets 'intuition pump' illustrates how free will (and hence responsibility) strictly requires neither determinism nor indeterminism to be true.

4. Consider the thought-experiment of "replaying the tape" of, say, a crime, with identical conditions in the universe and the criminal's brain. Can the criminal act differently in this replay?

An obvious practical objection is that this strictly is an impossible experiment. A theoretical objection is that this could also be an uninformative experiment. To treat any tendencies, let alone criminal tendencies, as a personality trait would require observations of behavior not just in a single setting but in diverse settings. This is a straightforward example of the Problem of Induction. So, the observations gained by replays, even ignoring their impossibility for a moment, may not be salient to judgments of culpability.

5. “I cannot take credit for the fact that I don’t have the soul of a psychopath.”

Dennett responds : He can take credit, not Ultimate credit, whatever that might be, but partial credit, for husbanding the resources he was endowed with.

6. "I, as the conscious witness of my experience, no more initiate events in my prefrontal cortex than I cause my heart to beat."

Dennett performs an exercise of tabooing the word 'I', and shows that the statement can be true only of 'I' is treated as a Cartesian subject distinct from the body, a notion which both Harris and he have expressly rejected. Dennett wraps this up with : Notice that if we replace the “conscious witness” with “my brain” we turn an apparent truth into an obvious falsehood: “My brain can no more initiate events in my prefrontal cortex than it can cause my heart to beat.”

7. Compatibilists ignore 'weaknesses of will' that are on display during failed decision-making, and in internal conflicts where a choice between two alternative decisions seems to be settled arbitrarily.

Dennett argues that compatibilists operating in an evolutionary paradigm do not ignore the limitations of free-will, but rather say that free will is real, but with its limitations. Quoting from the article : Freedom involves the ability to have one’s choices influenced by changes in the world that matter under the circumstances. Not a perfect ability, but a reliable ability.

What promises to be a useful book recommendation, made often in the essay, is Dennett's 1984 book Elbow Room : The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting
[+] 2 users Like arvindiyer's post
I think he just came out with his response, this is turning out to be very interesting to say the least:
The Marionette's lament
I feel that the discussion has reached a typical impasse because of difference in opinion over the approach. And the difference in approach is actually not over "how to solve the problem," but over "why solve the problem".

Dennett seems to think that concepts of free-will should be revised because discarding it makes people resort to fatalism and shunning of moral responsibility.

Harris argues that discarding free-will makes people loose hatred and its better to revise people's idea of moral responsibility.

Now for resolution of this, there are still some factual clarifications that could help.
Q1. Do people indeed consider themselves to have contra causal free will?
From personal experience most people do seem to have this mental model of free will.

Q2: Do people assign moral responsibility based on this conception of free will?
I feel this is a tricky question. I would have reacted "obviously yes" before reading Dennett's analysis. But I am not sure anymore. There might be people like Louise Hay who think that even Alzheimer's is just a "choice" (@2:05 here), but I do not think this is a popular opinion. Law courts most certainly take into account the mental state of an alleged perpetrator of a crime and dole out different punishments.

Probably this would be an interesting discussion on its own.

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