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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE and HUMANITY ENHANCED.

Friday, April 06, 2012

The free will dispute continues with...

... among other things, this jumbo-sized thread over at Why Evolution is True, which I've only just found time to read through (and even then in a semi-skimming way) in its entirety.

Happy days! Really, it's good that we can have disagreements about these things and remain friends. Perhaps it's because the differences are largely matters of semantics ... though they are important ones. There are many contexts in which even the semantics matter considerably, and getting the non-semantic facts clear certainly matters.

Expect me to have another go at this soon over on Talking Philosophy. I've been writing a series of posts responding to some pieces on free will in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the post about Jerry's Coyne piece in the Chronicle has a long thread of its own.

1 comment:

Peter Beattie said...

» Russell:
Really, it's good that we can have disagreements about these things and remain friends.

I’ll say.

» Perhaps it’s because the differences are largely matters of semantics ... though they are important ones.

Well, sadly, there are other topics that are largely semantic in nature (at least superficially) where things don’t work out that well… Different story, though.

As far as the free will discussion at Jerry’s place goes, I think the problem is that Jerry and Sam are in effect trying to monopolize the meaning of a term in favour of a definition that seems to be in clear opposition to what people actually believe (see the robot example in that comment). In any case, they would have to bring some evidence to bear on the question whether their definition (viz. contra-causal free will) is indeed what appreciable numbers of people believe in. It’s an empirical question, after all, and I would expect Jerry and Sam of all people to be aware of the need to back up such a claim—the more so the more obvious they take it to be, actually.

And as I also say over there, even if lots of people held to a contra-causal free will concept, that alone wouldn’t compel us to give up the term altogether. So, I think it’s more a question of how to think about issues and how to conduct a rational discussion than semantics, narrowly construed.