Published on Sat 1 Mar We may thus concede that material forces ultimately govern behaviour, and yet at the same time reject the notion that people are always and everywhere motivated by material self-interest. As he points out, educated people today are often trapped in a strange kind of double-think on this topic. Officially, they believe physical science calls for determinism, which proves they have no control over their lives. But in actual living, most of the time they assume they do have this control.
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Published on Sat 1 Mar We may thus concede that material forces ultimately govern behaviour, and yet at the same time reject the notion that people are always and everywhere motivated by material self-interest.
As he points out, educated people today are often trapped in a strange kind of double-think on this topic. Officially, they believe physical science calls for determinism, which proves they have no control over their lives. But in actual living, most of the time they assume they do have this control. They ignore their supposedly scientific beliefs rather as their ancestors often ignored threats of eternal punishment.
Yet those beliefs can still cause deep underlying anxiety, confusion, guilt and a sense of futility. Dennett shows he has grasped this odd situation. He rightly insists he never said this. But he does see now why people may think he did.
The trouble is that, in these discussions, what chiefly gets across to the reader is not so much the detailed arguments as the general tone, the rhetoric, the way the emphasis lies. And writers like Dennett, who want to promote a worldview centring on science, are indeed often somewhat hostile to the concept of free will. They treat it as an ally of traditional religion and a prop of the penal system.
These campaigners aim to get rid of the immortal soul. But the last thing they want to do is to lose individual freedom. In this book Dennett does at last grasp this nettle. He tries much harder than he has before to show that he understands the importance of our inner life.
He devotes much of the book to dissecting the mistaken notion that "science" requires us to write off that inner life as an ineffectual shadow.
Determinism, he says, is not fatalism. Fatalism teaches that human effort makes no difference to what happens, and we know this is false. Human effort often does make that difference. What makes this effectiveness seem impossible is not science but the rhetoric that has depicted the mind as a separate, helpless substance being pushed around by matter. Particle physics, which at that time dealt in very simple ultimate particles like billiard balls, must therefore supply the model for all other interactions.
All complexity was secondary and somehow unreal. Since that time, as Dennett points out, all the sciences, including physics, have dropped that over-simple model. They find complexity and variety of patterns everywhere. That is why we now need scientific pluralism - the careful, systematic use of different thinking in different contexts to answer different questions.
In particular, we are now finding steadily increasing complexity throughout the developing spectrum of organic life. The more complex creatures become, the wider is the range of activities open to them. And with that increase goes a steadily increasing degree of freedom: "The freedom of the bird to fly wherever it wants is definitely a kind of freedom, a distinct improvement on the freedom of the jellyfish to float wherever it floats, but a poor cousin of our human freedom Human freedom, in part a product of the revolution begat of language and culture, is about as different from bird freedom as language is different from birdsong.
But to understand the richer phenomenon, one must first understand its more modest components and predecessors. Thus, two writers who started from opposite positions in the sociobiology debate have both, on reflection, reached similar conclusions on the relation between freedom and evolution. They both make the central point that our conscious inner life is not some sort of irrelevant supernatural intrusion on the working of our physical bodies but a crucial part of their design.
We have evolved as beings that can feel and think in a way that makes us able to direct our actions. This means, of course, that the self is a much larger and more complex thing than the detached soul which Descartes thought was the essence of our being.
We operate as whole people. Our minds and bodies are aspects of us, not separate items. They do not need to compete for the driving seat. As Dennett points out, this holistic approach certainly works better than the simple libertarian attempt to avoid fatalism by interrupting determinism with patches of quantum indeterminacy - an attempt that could only produce spasms of randomness, not freedom.
But it needs to be worked out with great care and sensibility. In this book Dennett does, on the whole, supply these excellent qualities. There is no more fighting talk here of Darwinism being a "universal acid", eating through all other thought-systems and radically transforming them. There is not much rhetoric about sky-hooks, and there is absolutely nothing about the fashionable doctrine now known as "evolutionary psychology". Only one relic of extreme neo-Darwinism remains, namely, the doctrine of memes.
These mythical entities were invented, somewhat casually, by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene as a supplement to his story of the causal supremacy of genes, and the current huge popularity of evolutionary thinking has caused the idea to catch on despite its wildness.
It supplies people outside the physical sciences with something that looks to them like a scientific explanation of culture - "scientific" because it looks vaguely like genetics, and because it does not mention human thought and feeling.
But in Freedom Evolves he does not really need this device any longer. The need for it has vanished because he is now endorsing human thought and feeling as real parts of nature - genuine activities, not supernatural extras - part of normal causality and therefore capable of explaining what happens in culture. Yet, quite gratuitously, alongside this admirably realistic approach, Dennett still insists that memes - he explains them as comparable to liver-flukes, genuinely external to humans and having their own interests to promote - are its true scientific explanation.
Occam, however, was surely wise in suggesting that we should not multiply entities beyond necessity. On memetic principles, the only reason why he and others campaign so ardently for neo-Darwinism must be that a neo-Darwinist meme or fluke has infested their brains, forcing them to act in this way. That is, of course, a less welcome notion than the similar explanation of the idea of God which is their favourite example. As Dawkins put it, God is perhaps a computer virus. But if you propose the method seriously you must apply it consistently.
And if you do that, you should surely see that it is pure fatalism. This quaint remnant is perhaps the only serious flaw in an otherwise really admirable and helpful book.
Fate by fluke
If the mind is just the brain and there is nothing else, then our behaviours can be reduced to interactions of molecules in the brain, and appear to be deterministic. If this is the case, then where is the place for free will? There are two ways of handling this situation. We are deterministic, and free will is a myth. Hard-headed scientific types sometimes proclaim their acceptance of this position, even declaring it a no-brainer. But then, how come they hold onto this position with such vigour? Or, why do they let strongly held moral convictions to guide their actions in daily life?
Synopsis[ edit ] As in Consciousness Explained, Dennett advertises the controversial nature of his views extensively in advance. Free will, seen this way, is about freedom to make decisions without duress and so is a version of Kantian positive practical free will, i. Evitability is entirely compatible with, and actually requires, human action being deterministic. Dennett moves on to altruism , denying that it requires acting to the benefit of others without gaining any benefit yourself. He argues that it should be understood in terms of helping yourself by helping others, expanding the self to be more inclusive as opposed to being selfless.