Thank you everyone, this helps a lot. It's difficult to train oneself to recognize the step-by-step logic that exposes a contradiction. Your notes were particularly interesting and helpful, RR, they give me a solid foundation. I've been flipping through Human Action and it's nice to see it referenced; I remember the part you cite, and agree. I've been meaning to get Stef's BintheB series, just haven't gotten around to it.
Since I will have to have an in-person discussion with this woman sometime this summer, may I bring up a few more points and get your reactions? It seems like the biggest problem is she's placing too much emphasis on the past, on the collection of events that caused an action, and completely ignoring the point of intention on the part of an individual action. Given the science that might grow to complicate this whole discussion--for neuroscience really is in its infancy--her point about past actions leading to an action could possibly become valid, no? What if we develop the ability to pinpoint genetic instincts that elicit a specific reaction in a given situation? I understand I'm straying into hypotheticals and conjectures... Anyhow. The point being, our philosophy of Free Will seems healthier as it points one to the future, asking the individual to think before he acts to be sure of one's intentions, while hers would have you throw up your hands and say, "who can say for sure they know what happened yesterday, so give that murderer a break..."
As far as her book, it may sound interesting, but its really just armchair philosophy. She references some interesting folks, including Douglas Hofstadter, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Steven Pinker, a bunch of academics, but also folks like Ramesh Balsekar, Mark Twain, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein...it's sort of a grab bag as you can see, with very short passages of original material and conclusions...
I was just flipping through it again, and here is an interesting passage, which struck a chord this second time as I'm currently halfway through UPB and was reminded of "the Null Zone." This passage appears in her chapter on "The Myth of Morality," and after establishing that "Lesson 1: morality is hardwired into us," she adds these "lessons":
2. "There are two kinds of responsibility. There is ultimate (big picture) responsibility and proximate (little picture) responsibility. Ultimately, we are not responsible for our actions because we do not have free will (for the reasons described in this book). Proxmiately, however, we are responsible and accountable for our actions. We must obey the laws of the lands we reside in and trek across. We dare not do as we please in all situations. Being held accountable teaches us to behave ethically in a civilized society. So don't worry that responsibility will vanish if we understand that free will is an illusion. In short, the proximate/ultimate distinction enables us to understand how we can be both responsible and not responsible. At first this notion befuddled me. After a while, the two kinds of responsibility settled in."
3. "The free-will myth lets us off the hook. [Following, she quotes directly Thomas W. Clark from Encountering Nationalism, which I know nothing about] "Free will is the bottom line excuse for social policies which perpetuate the cycle of crime and punishment. If we believe criminality arises from individuals' freely-willed choices, its actual biological, social and economic causes will go unexplored and unaddressed. The myth lets us off the hook. When we come to appreciate the causal story behind crime, we'll seek to prevent crime instead of punishing it after the fact. True, it is individuals who commit offenses and they must be dealt with, compassionately and effectively. But the reasons they become offenders lie in the conditions that created them, so we must hold society responsible--ourselves, our families, schools and communities, as well as the offenders--in our quest for a safe, flourishing culture."
To a certain extent I agree with Clark, until the end there when we starts collectivising like a statist. Given these bits it seems like she is approaching the issue of the Null Zone Stefan brings up, but skirts around it without logic and appeals instead to the empathetic, altruistic natures of liberals to reach a rather contradictory philosophy: "we are both responsible and not responsible." Got any problems with that? "You'll get used to it, just like I did!"
Another big issue is that she seems to treat the neuroscience as having determined that "you have no choice, because of genetics" and doesn't address the issue of current actions affecting future genetic outcomes. That's how evolution works, right? It's not like evolution drew up all the plans right at the beginning and then pressed "execute." It's a bit messier than that as we respond to life in real time.
I'm sort of dreading broaching any of these issues with her. I'm not well trained....
"Why should witlesse man so much misweene that nothing is but that which he hath seen?"