The Problem With Daniel Dennett’s Free Will
Before going into my qualms with Daniel Dennett’s capability/evitibility-based free will, I want to point out that most supporters of Daniel Dennett’s brand of free will don’t realize that he agrees that we don’t have my brand of free will. What brand is that you ask? The absolute kind. The kind where people are free to step outside of a deterministic world and do something other than what follows from the inputs (which they don’t control).
Dennett knows this is impossible. The image above is from a talk he did in Edinburgh where he was very clear about this. He accepts the world to be effectively deterministic (meaning we gain no freedom from quantum randomness) and he has an elegant way of illustrating it through the slide below.
Here he cleanly captures the fact that the main type of free will that people have been talking about for centuries is simply not real, and goes on to say that the one that is real–the one we experience each day–is actually not real. He even goes on to say in the lecture that, “the fake stuff is actually pretty good”, or something to that effect.
So that’s one point: that he’s agreeing with we incompatibilists on our type of free will. But that’s not the part that bothers me. What bothers me is his claim that his species of free will is useful in some way that matters, i.e. from a blame and praise standpoint. To state this another way, if he accepts that the universe is deterministic, and that all outcomes are the result of inputs and laws, then I fail to see how he makes room for moral responsibility.
In my view, his talk of evolutionary biology, competence, evitability, and future creation are all handwaving. Surely these things are true, and surely we’re more evolved in these ways than other animals, but he fails to explain how they provide an escape from physics.
These things ride on top of physics–not below. They are products of it. They are outcomes. And once he has accepted that the physics itself is determined then he must know that all actions we make are determined as well. And he does know this. In fact he embraces it — that’s why he’s a compatibilist.
How then does he salvage moral responsibility from this? Let’s assume one being is more or less “capable” to predict future, or to make a proper decision. He claims this will determine its ability to avoid things, and thus as we evolve we get better at doing so.
Great. Well done. So what?
One’s capabilities are a function of inputs that he did not control. One’s ability to predict future is precisely the same. None of the components that make up the agent were in the control of the agent. So when a decision is made using one’s “capabilities” they are simply doing what they can with with what they have.
Someone. Anyone. Please explain to me how we get moral responsibility from this. I simply cannot see how he could conjure that interpretation.
I throw myself at the feet of the Internet. Show me what I’m missing.