Re: Against Physics

From: Rex Allen <>
Date: Fri, 4 Sep 2009 20:13:37 -0400

On Fri, Sep 4, 2009 at 2:54 PM, Brent Meeker<> wrote:
> It seems foolish to beat Basil's car because (1) we know the beating
> will not improve it's function and (2) we know that is must be possible
> to fix it (since we built it in the first place).  However neither of
> these is true in the case of dealing with a person who has committed a
> crime (I disdain the word "criminal" as if it were a separate species).
> Such a person may be deterred from further crimes by some punishment and
> more to the point other persons may be deterred by the example.
> Furthermore we have no idea how to "fix" the person in a mechanistic way
> - and if we did would it be ethical (c.f. "Clockwork Orange").
> Brent

If our goal is a criminal justice system that is rational, ethical,
and efficient, then do you think that it helps or hurts to frame the
discussion in terms of traditional words like morality,
responsibility, and free will - with all of their religious and
pre-scientific connotations and baggage?

So, looking at your original Dennett quote:

"If you make yourself small enough you can avoid responsibility for everything."

So apparently what he is saying is that it is his evaluation that
anyone who concludes that determinism precludes free-will is most
likely making that conclusion BECAUSE they themselves wish to avoid
being subjected to positive or negative reinforcement whose intent is
to produce optimal social conditioning.

BUT, if I am in fact supportive of the rational, ethical, and
efficient application of positive and negative reinforcements whose
intent is to induce socially optimal behavior (even if I am the one
being targeted by these inducements), BUT I still don't believe in
free will or moral responsibility in the sense that those words are
traditionally used (e.g., to justify retribution, instead of only
deterrence and rehabilitation), then haven't I shown Dennett to be

I think the American criminal justice system is nowhere near rational,
ethical, or efficient...and I think that Dennett's compatiblist word
games are more likely to hinder attempts to correct this than to help.
 And the same goes for other areas, like addressing poverty and
economic inequality.

Not because Dennett's ENTIRE system leads to bad things, but because
if you just look at parts of it without grasping the full context,
then it seems to uphold the status quo approach of retribution first,
deterrence second, and rehabilitation third if at all. And the idea
that the system is fine, and that people *only* have themselves to
blame for their poverty or other undesirable situation.

And of course, as Stathis pointed out, Dennett isn't the first
compatiblist, or the only compatibilist...but he's by far the most
vocal and prominent.

So...we've wandered way off topic. But Dennett really irks me.

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Received on Fri Sep 04 2009 - 20:13:37 PDT

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