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Repeat: Is Free Will Compatible With Determinism? The Dennett & Harris Debate

  • May 16, 2014 · 6:30 PM
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This is repeat of the May 2 topic:

Is Free Will Compatible With Determinism? – The Dennett & Harris Debate –

If you missed the May 2 meeting, join us on Friday May 16 to discuss Free Will.

Daniel Dennett has long been a defender of the position that free will is compatible with determinism. He argues that when you strip it of its mysterious qualities, free will is something very real and important to us. If we cannot hold a person responsible for their actions, that person does not have a free will. If we can, he does.

Samuel Harris has taken the opposite position. He argues that all our thoughts and actions are determined by prior events that we had absolutely no hand in creating. Free will is an illusion that we would be better off without. Free will is not compatible with determinism.

The meeting will begin with a summary and defense of the two opposing positions. (I’m looking for volunteers to present the case for each of the two positions. If you wish to volunteer, please send me an email at [masked].)

Both Dennett and Harris have written and spoken extensively on the subject of free will. Suggested references are given below.

YouTube Sources:

 1. “Dennett on free will and determinism”, YouTube (10 minute talk) 

2. "Free will as Moral Competence”, YouTube (60 minute talk), Melbourne 2012 

3. “Is science showing that we don’t have free will?”, YouTube (80 minute talk), 2007 

4. “Sam Harris – Free Will”, YouTube (80 minutes talk) Sydney 2012 

Recommended articles: 

1. Dan Dennett reviews Sam Harris's Free Will (1/14)'s_Free_Will.pdf

2. Sam Harris replies to Dennett's review (2/14)

Meeting Location: One Hampshire at Kendall Square How to get to One Hampshire at Kendall Square

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  • Ron W.

    Hi Jeff,
    Thanks for your RSVP

    May 17, 2014

  • Jeff M.

    sorry, I can't come. sorry for the late RSVP

    May 16, 2014

  • Jeff

    I don't know if I can go that night, but I did see a call to respond to the topic for the first meeting, but I did not see a way to respond. So here are my two cents (one cent for each side):

    - Free will compatible with determinism:
    Free will and determinism are a matter of perspective. They are two sides of the same coin. If you are driving to work and see a traffic jam ahead, and know that if you turn left at the next intersection you can access another road that will provide a detour around the traffic jam, you can choose to do so or stick with the main road. This is the exercise of free will.
    If you are above the road in a traffic helicopter, you can see some cars go straight, and some turn left. Every time there is a slowdown, roughly the same percentage of cars will turn left. So it's all predetermined. The same event is either choice or fate depending on one's perspective.

    - Neurology and Quantum Theory tell us that it's all an illusion. We don't exist, so there is no will.

    1 · April 27, 2014

  • John

    Also signed up for 5/2...if I get into that one, I'll drop out of this one.

    April 25, 2014

    • MJ

      Ah. Makes sense now. I saw this and RSVPed 'Yes," confused as I thought I'd already done so. So, this is the backup meeting for those who can't make it to the first. I'm a 'No' again then.

      April 26, 2014

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