26 May 2012

For Sylvia Jane II

Continuing the consideration of free will, and of Sam Harris’ recent book on the subject, from last week.  

As I indicated there, I’m not persuaded that Libet’s experiments have the broad significance sometimes attributed to them. Accordingly, I find unpersuasive Harris’ reliance on those experiments in his discussin of the factual question.

Beyond that, there is the value question. Harris wants us to abandon the idea of free will because it is part of the further idea of an autonomous self, and he wants us to give up that. The idea of a separate self is (as Buddhism teaches) the cause of all suffering and the abandonment of that illusion is enlightenment.

I recognize this idea as part of a noble philosophical heritage. For myself, though, I’m sticking with … my Self. The idea of the self, as a locus of responsibility and originality, has given us the politics of rights, of social mobility, the struggle for companionate over arranged marriage, and much else. How much “else” quickly becomes a matter of attribution and interpretation, but it seems likely for example that the idea of the lonely creative genius which was so much a part of romanticism was itself a factor in creating some of the works of art with which we associate the period.

Selfhood, whatever else we may say of it, is not only about suffering. And it is my humble prejudice that we should keep selfhood (and such notions of freedom as are intermingled with that) until we have better reasons for abandoning it than anything yet presented.

I'll have a final comment on this line of thought tomorrow.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.