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28: DEC 9


  • Susan Blackmore, "Living Without Free Will"

Blackmore - Living Without Free Will

  • Thesis: Free will is an unnecessary illusion that you might be better off getting over. SB grants that many find this an impossible view.
  • Cites Wegner (2002): research suggesting that the feeling of agency ("I did it!") might be "post-hoc" attribution.
  • ”Inner self is illusion.” Illusion can mean something that isn’t there or something that isn’t what it seems. SB means the latter.
  • Blackmore agrees with Dennett's analysis (but thinks his book should be called "Choice Evolves"), but thinks FW is an illusion. Dennett says “free will worth having” is the kind he describes in Freedom Evolves.
  • She considers two possibilities: "Living 'as if'" and "Rejecting the Illusion" - favors the latter.
  • Living "as if"
  • Wegner quote: "virtual agency" is part of a useful mental accounting system. But virtual agency is an illusion created by our brains.
  • Patricia Churchland: It's a "user illusion" that you make an uninfluenced, self-conscious choice.
  • "Illusionism" can be defended. If you believe bad consequences follow from giving it up....
  • Criminal Justice system would be fairer without the illusion of FW. No retribution.
  • Stronger position: You can't get rid of the illusion even if you wanted to. "I'm determined to believe in FW."
  • "Rejecting the Illusion" -
  • 166: "sitting by the fire" example
  • William James - getting out of bed on cold morning. Analyze that feeling of "indecision".
  • Blackmore 167: going out on a cold night. "...not because "i" made the decision of my own free will. It is because this is the decision that the whole universe came up with for this person under those circumstances."
  • Thought experiment to her students: "But if I don't have free will why would I get up in the morning? Why would I do anything?" Go ahead. Try it!
  • Blackmore thinks of consciousness more as events than a place in your head where things "enter into conscious awareness". Likewise, maybe, with free will. [Possible criticism: Just because it would be mistaken to believe in the homunculus, it doesn't mean that there are no neural processes that imitate some of it's less exotic functions (like updating us by making this conscious to us - "Oh right, I have a paper to write."). [Arguably, that’s your evolved, “user illusion” homunculus talking.]
  • 169: Some of the exercises she asks her students to do. "Am I conscious now?" Sometimes primes them to be more conscious. (Related to mindfulness).
  • Morality and Responsibility
  • You might think that you would have more regrets giving up FW, but no.
  • Wegner: knowing its an illusion gives him a sense of peace. “There are a whole lot of things that I don’t have to worry about controlling because I know that I’m just a little window on a lovely machines that’s doing lots of things.”
  • Conversation with her Dad. Maybe FW (or belief in it) makes us "want to be good" (recall Henrich). But we’re not wicked, in general. (“I’m determined to improve the future!”). Her answer, 173: Ultimately we’re designed by evolution to benefit from being good.
  • SB's point: All of your motivations to be good (self-interest, reputation, altruism) will still be there after you give up FW.
  • Paying Attention
  • In meditation, a great deal of "quieting the mind" is about getting the self to shut up so you can pay attention to the mind.

Small group

  • Consider Susan Blackmore’s discussion. How far does her advice go for you?
  • I’m holding out for Free Will. It doesn’t feel like a user illusion.
  • I’ll do the “as if” (like Wegner). It’s a useful user illusion and it works better if you believe in it. Or, it would be dangerous to give up. Or both.
  • Some of the benefits of “living without free will” look promising, but I’m not sure. CJ fairness. Appreciation of my nature. That we are designed to benefit from being good.
  • Damn straight. I’m giving up free will today!

Concluding Course Comments

  • Review of Major Ethics Course Questions
  • Core Ethics Course goals -- Let's make sure we fulfilled the learning goals for this Core class! (My glosses and additions in parentheses.)
  • After completing this course, students will be able to: 1. argue persuasively why [also, whether, the extent to which] each of us is responsible for having ethical concerns about and commitments to the good of others, 2. resolve moral problems consistently, drawing on resources (e.g., conceptions of human nature and of human community) of one of the ethical theories or traditions studied [doesn't quite fit what we've done], and 3. respectfully advocate for their critically assessed moral commitments and perspectives within a diverse community.
  • Three Ideas
  • People have moral issues, but cultures do too.
  • We have some flexibility about the way we inhabit our moral and political orientations. Compromise on issues doesn’t have to involve self-betrayal of identity.
  • Cultures can change too, but it’s harder.
  • Some smaller ideas and suggestions.
  • Practice enlightened politics.
  • Cultivate diverse relationships.
  • Taking yourselves seriously as intellectuals