2000-03-07: Elbow Room

Elbow Room

The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting (1984)

by Daniel C. Dennett (1942-)

This book is typical of Dennett’s approach to philosophy, which can be tedious for a non-specialist, but usually seems to make worthwhile points (even if the logic cannot be completely vouched-for).

Dennett spends six chapters examining in some detail the positions of others on various aspects of his question. Unfortunately, writing for a technical audience assumed familiar with the positions he examines, he doesn’t provide much help for a non-specialist. We have to assume his descriptions are fair, and then take on faith his characterization of the weaknesses in the positions. Nonetheless, I find his approach interesting; and his conclusions, if not earthshaking, at least give the promise of having eliminated some blind alleys.

Aside from the technical aspects of the work, I also liked his characterization of his own approach as not scientific, but rather relying on artistic intuition (apparently developed as a sculptor) to decide where to rough in a position, and where to refine the details. Of course, I am also sympathetic to his references to cognitive science as shedding light on the working of our own minds.

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