Socraticgadfly's Reviews > The Illusion of Conscious Will

The Illusion of Conscious Will by Daniel M. Wegner
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it was amazing
bookshelves: philosophy

Forget Dennett; start here for discussion of "free will" issues

Along with that, it's an excellent refutation of the illogic and weak knees of someone like Dan Dennett, as well as seeming to scare the hell out of a lot of amateur readers who perhaps should never be allowed near material like this in the first place.

The title speaks for itself. Wegner then looks at the latest findings in modern neuroscience, along with the latest speculation in cognitive philosophy, and offers up his ideas as to how and why this illusion arose.

And here is where I say he is an excellent refutation to Dennett.

It's been roughly two decades since Dennett came out with his claim that we have no Cartesian Central Meaner at the core of our minds, ie. no homunculus or metaphorical little man serving as the central director of our consciousness.

But, but, but, Dennett refuses to come to the logical conclusion that, if we don't have a Central Meaner, we can't have a Central Willer, either. It's not just a lack of goal to go down this road; in his latest books to touch on free will, it's a willful (nice pun, eh?) rejection of this logical conclusion.

Well, Wegner is not afraid to take the plunge, and does so in convincing fashion, although he does pull back somewhat at the end.

That said, and although I gave this a five-star rating, there's plenty to still study on this issue that Wegner (and Dennett, et al) have not tackled.

1. Is there an Unconscious Willer? After all, as Dennett won't tell you, much of the working of our mind is unconscious or subconscious (and I mean no Deepak Chopra New Ageism by that statement). Isn't it possible, at least, that there is a Central Meaner, or several quasi-Central Meaners, in one or more subconscious brain routines? Of course, these quasi-Meaners would generate quasi-Willers.

2. Again, without getting into New Ageism, dimestore Zen, bogus metaphysics, etc., there's room for Wegner to go further down the path of just what "I" is and is not, without not only a Central Meaner but a Central Willer.

3. Handwringing and gnashing of teeth aside from fundamentalist Christians or people in that general direction (the ones who shouldn't be reading books like this in the first place) where do theories of morals (or aesthetics, for that matter) get grounded with no Central Willer as well as no Central Meaner? Here is where Wegner most pulls his punches in this book when he had the chance to meaningfully explore this from a non-willer perspective.

Folks, we've got enough material here for another book. Hopefully, Wegner, or someone else, is in the process of writing it.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 15, 2006 – Finished Reading
December 13, 2012 – Shelved
December 13, 2012 – Shelved as: philosophy

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Vagabond of Letters, DLitt I'm a pretty fundamentalist, rad-trad type of Catholic and I'm a staunch determinist. I even think Aquinas backs me up.

You're overgeneralizing from 'free-will' Baptists (it's right in the name, because they defined themselves over against the original congregationalist Baptists who rejected free will) and Arminians and theologically uneducated pew- Christians to an entire metaphysico-philosophical tradition which is a rather big tent when even narrowly construed.

The 'hard compatibilism' of Aquinas ('the human will not moving itself must eventually be moved by that which is not moved, namely, God') to the naturalistic determinism of Wegner is no great disjunction - virtually no practical or conative disjunction, the aporia is all in the metaphysical grounding: What causes the will to will, or, behavioristically, What causes man to act?

The a/theistic conclusions are identical except for the ultimate cause, which is to say the difference is in whether or not a three-Os god exists, which is to say the difference between atheistic and theistic accounts of the freedom of the will is only the difference between atheism and theism. If the sole difference is in the a/theism itself, there are no further distinctions or differences vis-a-vis the question of the freedom of the will.


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