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Friday, May 01, 2009


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Nietzsche's comments on free will are nowhere near as breathtakingly idiotic as most if not all of the materialist exegeses. Fortunately, it seems like libertarian free will is becoming more and more popular amongst philosophers, particularly young philosophers, probably under the influence of people like van Inwagen and Chisholm. I also think that the recrudescence of interest in dualism might have something to do with the reconsideration of libertarian free will, seeing as historically the two have tended to go together, even though there's no necessary logical connection. Work done by van Inwagen, Lucas, Lowe, O'Connor and others really show up just how question-begging and weak so many of the old arguments against libertarian free will are, derived as they so often are from some sort of deterministic, mechanical view of the universe and a strange aversion to the notion of agent causation. Dennett and others call it 'mysterious', but I don't see how event-causation is any less mysterious.

Nietzsche mentions the 'half-educated' and what the 'half-educated' believe. If there's one thing I find contemptible in so much philosophy, it's this barely concealed contempt some of them have for the common person. The contempt runs so deep, in fact, that if a philosophical analysis leads to a conclusion that seems to support some common sense intuition held by non-philosophers (the 'milk maids' whom Voltaire so derides) then this agreement with common sense is considered a decisive mark against its truth. "The common man believes he makes genuine choices?" they say. "Well, he would, the idiot. If only they were marvelous enough to understand my devastating arguments--if only they knew of the mechanical philosophy..." Dennett is a prime modern example of this sort of behaviour. In his book Freedom Evolves he equates the average person, still fettered to common-sense beliefs, to Dumbo, and the contumacious and clear-eyed philosopher (i.e. Dennett) to the crow that tells Dumbo he no longer needs the feather to fly--the implication being that people are libertarians (or dualists) because they're afraid of determinism, or afraid that death is the end--or in some way just tender-minded wimps unwilling to face up to the truth. His smug condescension (and rambling) was too much for me and I never finished the book. The recent flurry of interest in Thomas Reid, once considered the common-sense philosopher par excellence, may be a sign that the contempt for the common sense of the common person promulgated by people like Nietzsche, Voltaire, Dennett, etc. is going steadily out of fashion.

As for the claim that people believe they have libertarian free will because of pride, well, that's obviously wrong. People believe they are centres of action that make genuine choices because it's just obvious that that's the case. It's a pre-theoretical intuition, and so far as I can see, it's one that isn't at all derived from some sort of overweening pride. The fact that many of these people also believe that such freedom makes them ultimately responsible to a transcendent moral order, completely outside of their control and incomprehensible to finite minds, sounds closer to humility than pride. It seems to me that Nietzche's claim that belief in libertarian freedom stems from the delusions of human pride exposes just how little he actually understood common humanity.

Quite so, Mr Bortignon. Or, as a 'half-educated' common man, such as I, might put it: philosophy is of utmost importance ... philosophers not so.

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