Moving Naturalism Forward: my summary. Here are some excerpts from that summary. I think they illustrate the point I tried to make earlier; namely, that this whole exercise is pretty much a waste of time.
At the end of the meeting we were all asked to give our take on it: did we really move naturalism forward, did we change our minds about anything, and what are the exciting questions that remain? I will speak only for myself here (Massimo will likely give a more complete summary of everyones views soon).Perhaps the best that can be said is that many of the participants came to the realization that determinism is true and trying to make a philosophical case for free will in a deterministic world is somewhat pointless.
I found the conference interesting but inconclusive. We did not even agree (or much discuss) what naturalism really is, and most people agreed that we disagreed in general: we didn’t come to many conclusions about anything. Nick Pritzker, who sponsored the meeting, agreed with this take.
One conclusion, though—one that gratified me immensely—is that several people who did change their minds on an issue said something like: “I decided during the workshop that free will is a philosophical black hole (something that Owen Flanagan asserted at the meeting’s outset) and that we shouldn’t discuss any longer whether it exists.” I think by this they meant that since we are all determinists, discussing whether we have free will becomes a semantic game. Dan Dennett’s claim (see Massimo’s summary) that society will fall apart if we don’t retain some notion of “free will” was not widely shared. I don’t believe it for a minute. That was the claim made for religion, too, but largely atheistic societies, like those in Scandinavia, are pretty damn harmonious!Note that Jerry calls the discussion a "semantic game." For a scientists, this means the discussion is over. For a philosopher, this means "game on!"
We all agreed that dualism (often called “nonphysical libertarian free will”) is dead, and that our decisions are determined largely before we become conscious of “making” them. Surprisingly, Steve Weinberg was the one person who seemed to disagree with this, saying that his consciousness had a “role” in making his decision. I claim that consciousness of making a decision may be merely a phenomenon that follows a decison made unconsciously, and, indeed, may have evolved just for that purpose. That is, confabulating may be an adaptation.
At any rate, most didn’t think that we should continue debating whether or not we have free will. I consider that as a small personal victory of sorts. As I noted in my presentation below, that doesn’t mean that substantive, interesting, and socially relevant questions about the illusion of “personal agency” don’t remain.
From the naturalism workshop, part II and From the naturalism workshop, part III. I'm particularly interested in Pigliucci's take on science and philosophy. In the excerpt below, he complains that we shouldn't play "semantic games" with terms such as "science" and "philosophy" then he proceeds to do exactly that by defining science in a way that many of us reject. It's called having your cake and eating it too!
I began by pointing out that it doesn’t help anyone if we play semantic games with terms like “science” and “philosophy.” In particular, “science” cannot be taken to be simply whatever deals with facts, just like “philosophy” isn’t whatever deals with thinking. So for instance, facts about the planets in the solar system are scientific facts, but the observation that I live in Manhattan near the Queensborough Bridge is just a fact, science has nothing to do with it. Similarly, John Rawls’ book A Theory of Justice, to pick an arbitrary example, is real philosophy, while Ron Hubbard’s nonsense about Dianetics isn’t, even though he thought of it as such.I've criticized this position in earlier posts [Does Philosophy Generate Knowledge?, What Kind of Knowledge Does Philosophy Discover?]. It's not clear whether any of the remaining Stockbridge 13 challenged Pigliucci on this or on his interpretation of scientism. They all seemed to accept that "science" is simply what physicists and biologists do in their professional life. (I don't mean to exclude geologists, chemists, astronemers, etc.) Did they all accept the following statement by Pigliucci's? I don't.
So science becomes a particular type of structured social activity, characterized by empirically driven hypothesis testing about the way the world works, peer review, technical journals, and so on. And philosophy is about deploying logic and general tools of reasoning and argument to reflect on a broad range of subject matters (epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, etc.) and to reflect on other disciplines (“philosophies of”).
In the end, I submitted that skirmishes between scientists and philosophers are not just badly informed and somewhat silly, they are anti-intellectual, and do not help the common cause of moving society toward a more rational and compassionate state than it finds itself in now.I'm surprised that Jerry Coyne let that one slip by since I know he was just as annoyed as I was by Elliot Sober's defense of how a sneaky god(s) could direct evolution [The Problem with Philosophy: Elliot Sober]. That kind of criticism of philosophy is neither badly informed nor anti-intellectual.
In spite of the fact that no progress was made on any of the issues being discussed, Massimo Pigliucci concludes ...
This, added to the positive effect of meeting one’s intellectual adversaries in person, sharing meals and talking over a beer or a glass of wine, has definitely made a stupendous success of the workshop as a whole.I'm wondering if the scientists at the meeting would do it again next year. I'm pretty sure the philosophers would since they delight in just talking, even if no conclusions are possible.
This brings us to Sean Carroll, a physicist who organized the meeting. His summary is at: Nudging Naturalism Just a Bit Forward. (His wife, Jennifer Ouellette, was also at the meeting.)
More generally — and probably because of our very short overall amount of time — I thought we had fascinating discussions at a very abstract level, but could have spent more time bringing things down to brass tacks. We clarified some deep issues about (for example) free will and morality, but didn’t really try to go the next step and say “Okay, so what is moral?” There was a fascinating moment when Terry Deacon explained how his willingness to do certain kinds of experiments on certain kinds of animals has evolved over time, but we didn’t follow up on nuggets like that. This might be an unrealistic standard, as there were not enough hours in the day to dig deeply into all the topics we discussed, but it was an absence I felt after all was said and done.
I should reiterate that these minor gripes about my own performance as organizer don’t detract from the overall impression of the meeting, which was a fantastic and singular intellectual experience. As I mentioned on Twitter, if you judge the success of a conference by the extent to which the coffee break and lunchtime discussions follow directly on what was said at the formal sessions, I’ve never been to a more successful meeting. Incredibly smart people, focused on very deep and important questions, thinking their brains out about how to answer these questions. If you’re an academic, these are the moments you live for.