Monday, April 9, 2012

Revision Outline Sketch Blueprint

The Fatalist 'Enlightenment'
For my revision, I plan to expand my blog post on what I titled “The Fatalist Enlightenment” ( There are several reasons why I am choosing to do this. First, I believe nearly every text we’ve read since I wrote the post in late January is highly germane to the debate between fate and free-will. I plan, at the very least, to include Lilith’s Brood and On Human Nature (as per the original post), as well as Moby-Dick. I also plan on engaging with One Dimensional Man.

A requirement for this final project is that we choose one of the more philosophical works from the class (Wilson, Lewotin, or Marcuse) and engage with their ideas/work in a sustained manner throughout my argument. My initial post harped pretty extensively on Wilson’s idea of the non-existence of free-will. I plan to shift the majority of my philosophical engagement from that of Wilson to that of Marcuse. The schematics of such a revision will most likely bound an argument as follows:

1)      Wilson makes the claim that honeybees do not have free-will. He makes this claim based upon our understanding of science and our heightened/developed intellectual skills compared to the honeybee. His argument summarizes as such:
i)        Given enough computational power, we can predict the ‘choices’ that a honeybee would make based on a knowledge of all external stimuli: the placement of nearby flowers, pheromones, etc.
ii)      Therefore the honeybee does not have free-will, as we can predict what the bee will do “with an accuracy exceeding pure chance” (Wilson, 73).
iii)    We can then imagine that, if there were a higher life-form than humans that were able to view humans in an objectified manner, they would come to similar conclusions regarding humans.
iv)    Therefore, humans do not have free-will either.
v)      However, it is the limitations of a being’s own intellect that determine its illusion of free-will, therefore any given being should, by Wilson’s definition, always have the illusion of free-will.
2)      Many opponents of sociobiology see this as problematic; I do not. As I claimed in my previous essay, there is no inherent or functional difference between illusions of free-will and free-will itself. In fact, it only becomes problematic or bothersome when we begin to make inquiries with regards to its nature. Otherwise, we do our human-version of happily collecting honey obliviously.
3)      Marcuse views humanoid happy, oblivious honey-collection as a private (public?) hell. Much of his theories of liberation state that we cannot become truly free until we realize that we are not free.
4)      Wilson’s theory seems to directly contradict Marcuse’s. I realize that discussions of free-will and freedom are not entirely within the same realm, but there are substantial overlaps. Consider:
i)        Wilson believes that any given being cannot transcend its own intelligence in order to realize that it is, in fact, not able to exercise free-will.
ii)      Marcuse believes that it is possible for society to transcend its own consciousness in order for it to realize that it is, indeed, not free.
5)      I think both of these make a substantial amount of sense to me, yet I think that Wilson’s reasoning poses more of a challenge to the validity of Marcuse’s claim than vice versa.
6)      For, if you have the perception of free-will, it is as good as free-will. Is not, then, the perception of freedom inherently the same as freedom itself?
7)      Surely it is not, yet this does pose a particular challenge to Marcuse’s work, one which I would like to explore using several examples from the texts we have read over the course of the semester.

As for outside sources, I am still somewhat searching for the most germane texts to my inchoate argument. I have been referred to Heidegger countless times over the semester and have begun to engage (albeit a somewhat cursory engagement) with his philosophical outlook. Assuming I can rise ever so slightly above my current dilettante-level understanding of Heidegger I would like to bring in a discussion of his concept of Dasein, particularly when it comes to Dasein’s choice between authenticity and mimicry (and how both are still choices and therefore ‘free-will-ish’). Which means my tentative bibliography includes Being and Time (Between the Macquarrie/Robinson and the Stambaugh translation, is either more cogent? (Are there particular sections I should look at?))

My second, and perhaps third academic resource will be from an academic journal. I am currently perusing some of PittCat’s catalogue to find a nice review of current neurological/psychological understanding of free-will (or the perception thereof). Mostly, I am finding highly esoteric submissions involving much neurological jargon and very little speculation in the neurology papers I’ve found and pretty much the complete inverse in psychology papers (speculation abound). I want to find a good mix between the two, something I can reference as our current biological understanding (removed from sociobiology, hopefully) of not only where our free-will comes from, but where our own limitations in understanding it lay. Hopefully I will be able to turn this back around to challenge Marcuse’s proclamation further.

If not (it’s not looking good), I plan on engaging with, at least in a passingly critical fashion, neuroscientist and author Sam Harris in either his book (appropriately enough) “Free Will” or “The Moral Landscape.” In each, he argues for a scientific understanding of basic morality and believes that science can offer us a way to build our morality around – very much a neo-Wilson. I will use his claims as a counterpoint to Heidegger’s approach (or rather, Heidegger’s approach as a solution to Harris’s floundering).

Hope all this qualifies.

1 comment:

  1. That all sounds like fun, and I have no doubt that you can handle it. However, since it's big, and, in some ways, a familiar topic (everybody loves talking about free will, so an approximately infinite amount of material exists on the topic) my comment will be directed at helping you to focus - but because I'm interested in and approving of the *overall* direction, my comments may not form a more coherent whole.

    1) Probably Stambaugh
    2) Where is Lewontin in this? His point of view is by no means identical to Marcus's, and he doesn't precisely advocate for "free will" as such - but he is highly critical of the notion that organisms can be *computed*, which takes you a long way toward free will. I guess I'm saying that a careful reading of Lewontin might help you demonstrate that a Marcusean concept of freedom is meaningful and useful even in our current state of biological knowledge.
    3) Incorporating Neuroscience here is a *good* approach, but it may prove to be *too much* - especially since you won't find much neuroscience (any?) on your side. I approve of the idea, but if you need to back off of this component, so be it.
    4) for my money, Heidegger's concept of "thrownness" is enormously helpful here. My reading (keeping in mind that I'm planning on revisiting some Heidegger this summer - I'm a little rusty) is that Heidegger's concept of freedom is purely *contextual* - we have freedom within a given context, into which we are "thrown" - which could relate to your argument that there is no real difference between apparent freedom and actual freedom.

    Have I discussed that Marcuse was, for a time, one of Heidegger's pupils? I think that Marcuse's views on freedom reflect tension between Heideggerian and Marxist viewpoints that are well worth exploring.

    Anyway, it sounds good, and I'm looking forward to it - those comments are meant to be useful, but you obviously can't be heavily guided by all of them.