Chapter 1: Natural Freedom
This Dilbert comic strip by Scott Adams expresses one of the problems that many people have with the philosophy of metaphysical naturalism (or materialism). If we do not have souls, as materialism preaches, and human consciousness is simply a product of material atoms bouncing off each other according to the laws of physics, then can we really claim to have free will? If we don’t have free will, can we truly accept praise for accomplishments that we achieve, or be held responsible for acts of evil that we perpetrate?
In his book, Freedom Evolves, contemporary philosopher Daniel Dennett tackles these questions, and argues that materialism does not pose a problem for free will; in fact, it can provide a positive account of free will that is better than traditional views.
In chapter one, Dennett outlines his belief that humans don’t have immaterial souls, and that many people feel uncomfortable with this view:
“But this idea of immaterial souls, capable of defying the laws of physics, has outlived its credibility thanks to the advance of the natural sciences. Many people think the implications of this are dreadful: We don’t really have “free will” and nothing really matters. The aim of this book is to show why they are wrong.” pg 1
Dennett argues that the main driving force behind most of the resistance to materialism, and to neo-Darwinism in particular, is concern about free will. These fears have led many to misunderstand and misinterpret current philosophical and scientific discoveries in this field.
This is the first book of Dennett’s that I’m reading, so I’m going to take it slow, and I will provide a summary of each chapter as I go along. I’m very interested to discover the finer details of his argument. I keep you all updated.