Evolution beyond determinism - on Dennett's compatibilism and the too timeless free will debate

Journal of Cognition and Neuroethics 3 (1):39-74 (2015)
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Most of the free will debate operates under the assumption that classic determinism and indeterminism are the only metaphysical options available. Through an analysis of Dennett’s view of free will as gradually evolving this article attempts to point to emergentist, interactivist and temporal metaphysical options, which have been left largely unexplored by contemporary theorists. Whereas, Dennett himself holds that “the kind of free will worth wanting” is compatible with classic determinism, I propose that his models of determinism fit poorly with his evolutionary theory and naturalist commitments. In particular, his so-called “intuition pumps” seem to rely on the assumption that reality will have a compositional bottom layer where appearance and reality coincide. I argue that instead of positing this and other “unexplained explainers” we should allow for the heretical possibility that there might not be any absolute bottom, smallest substances or universal laws, but relational interactions all the way down. Through the details of Dennett’s own account of the importance of horizontal transmission in evolution and the causal efficacy of epistemically limited but complex layered “selves,” it is argued that our autonomy is linked to the ability to affect reality by controlling appearances.

Author's Profile

Maria Brincker
University of Massachusetts, Boston


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