Monday, September 06, 2004

Dennitty Goodness

Below is an excerpt regarding free will, but I thought it relevant to other avenues of human thought. Which ones do you think it applies to?

This polarization is probably inevitable. When the stakes are high, one should be cautious, but excess caution leads to hardened positions and paranoia about “erosion.” If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, as they say. Beware the thin edge of the wedge, the slippery slope. If you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. Caution can also lead to a sort of unwitting self-caricature, however. In their zeal to protect something precious, people sometimes decide to dig the moat too far out, thinking that it is safer to defend too much than risk defending too little. The result is that they end up trying to defend the indefensible, clinging to an extreme position that is actually vulnerable only because of its exaggeration. Absolutism is an occupational hazard in philosophy in any case, since radical, hard-edged positions are easier to define clearly, are more memorable, and tend to attract more attention. Nobody ever became a famous philosopher by being a champion of ecumenical hybridism. On the topic of free will this tendency is amplified and sustained by tradition itself: As philosophers for two millennia have said, either we have free will or we don’t; it’s all, or nothing at all. And so the various compromise proposals, the suggestions that determinism is compatible with at least some kings of free will, are resisted as bad bargains, dangerous subversions of our moral foundations.
-Dennett, Freedom Evolves (p. 101)


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