Tuesday, January 13, 2015

On a recent exchange with Jerry Coyne and others

(I usually don't reply in this way, but Jerry Coyne's moderating methods don't leave me any good options).

In a recent post, Jerry Coyne made a number of claims about Dennett in particular, and about compatibilists in general.

I replied in the comments thread, challenging some of his claims and asking him to defend them.

He didn't reply at first, but other posters did reply, and I addressed their replies.

Eventually, Coyne replied, but instead of addressing my points, he misconstrued one of them - despite the fact that I had repeatedly clarified it in the comments -, and also mistakenly accused me of replying in a rude way. Now, my comments are not getting through, but appear "awaiting moderation", which makes me unable to respond to the persistent misrepresentation of my views by a few posters over there.

So, I'd like to reply to Coyne's comment, as well as one comment by another poster:

Jerry Coyne says: “I have already put up two quotes from Dennett in which he says that it’s dangerous for people to believe that they are biochemical puppets. Go here for the quotes and link. Frankly, I’m offended when you claim that I’m just making stuff up. I expect that you will now admit you were wrong when you said that “I can always posting a link, “if there is one.”

That’s just plain rude.”


Actually, the post of mine Coyne is replying to was my reply to darrelle, and I did not say "I can always posting a link, “if there is one."

Rather, I told darrelle "you can always post a link (quoting Dennett) in support of it, if there is one." I was telling darrelle that while the evidence was strongly against her or his claim about Dennett, I was open to counterevidence in the form of a link supporting the claim. That is not rude in that context.

As one can see in the rest of my exchange with darrelle, there was no link supporting her or his claim, and it turned out darrelle had seriously misunderstood Dennett's views, and made a number of other mistakes. The exchange is on record, so I don't need to add details here.

That aside, and with regard to Coyne's claim about Dennett's views, as I explained a couple of times in my exchange with darrelle and others, I know Dennett holds that it would be dangerous if a substantial portion of the population came to believe the false theory that we do not have free will, no moral responsibility, that no behavior is immoral, etc.

On the other hand, it is not the case that Dennett believes, or feels, that "it’s dangerous for the public to know the truth" about determinism.

Now, Coyne said in the OP that "In both cases academic doyens (theologians or philosophers) feel that it’s dangerous for the public to know the truth (about God or about determinism).".

If it were true that Dennett believes that, that still would not justify Coyne's more general claim about compatibilist philosophers (and it's false in general too), but in any case, it is not true that Dennett's believes that. It seems probable that Coyne made his claim under the assumption that knowing “the truth about determinism” was somehow equivalent to knowing that there is no free will. But Coyne ought to clarify and more importantly defend his claim.

Another reply:

darrelle says: “well, in your own mind”.

Reply: The "You earlier claimed that" after "Actually, I know compatibilism is the position that free will is compatible with determinism. It does not entail that determinism is true. There are compatibilists who do not take a stance on whether determinism is true." was a copy/paste error – so, that's my bad -, but it should be clear that it was not support to be part of the following sentence.

At any rate, my points in reply to darrelle stand, as one can check by looking at the record.


Aragorn said...

I admire your patience. It's clear from the exchanges that most of them don't know a thing about compatibilism, free will, etc. It would have been nice if they were more open to increasing their knowledge and understanding about the subject given that you are more than qualified to give them instruction. But theirs is a kind of aggressive ignorance that resists all attempts at education.

Oh well.

Angra Mainyu said...

Thank you.

There is at least one poster over there (Vaal) who is correcting a number of Coyne's errors, as well as the errors of some of the other posters, or was until recently. Hopefully, Coyne won't block Vaal's posts as well.

But I agree it's improbable that most of them will realize they were mistaken, at least given the evidence provided by past behavior. Still, some of the readers might benefit from the exchanges (though in my particular case, Coyne did not post my reply to his post or either of the two replies to other posters I sent after he replied, so I won't keep trying to post over there).