Evolution Created Free Will

Philosopher and Cognitive Scientist
For billions of years on this planet, there was life but no free will. The difference is not in physics—which has remained the same—but is ultimately in biology, specifically evolutionary biology.
  • Transcript


Daniel Dennett: For billions of years on this planet, there was life but no free will.  Physics hasn’t changed but now we have free will.  The difference is not in physics has nothing to do with determinism and what are the indeterminism it has to do with ultimately with biology, specifically evolutionary biology.  What has happen over those billions of years is that greater and greater competences have been designed and have evolved and the competence of a dolphin or of a chimpanzee.  The cognitive competence, the sort of mental competence is hugely superior to the competence of you know, a lobster, or a starfish but ours dwarfs the competence of a dolphin or a chimpanzee perhaps even greater extent and there’s an entirely naturalistic story to say to tell about how we came to have that competence or those competences and it’s that can do.  It’s that power that we have which is natural but it’s that power which sets us aside from every other species and the key to it is that we don’t just act for reasons, we represent our reasons to ourselves and to others. 

The business of asking somebody why do, why did you do that?  And the person being able to answer is a very simple and very, it’s an everyday phenomenon but it is a key and it is the key to responsibility and in fact the word responsibility sorts of wear its meaning on its sleeve.  We are responsible because we can respond to challenges to our reasons.  Why? Because we don’t just act for reasons, we act for reasons that we consciously represent to ourselves and this is what gives us the power and the obligation to think ahead, to anticipate, to see the consequences of our action.  To be able to evaluate those consequences in the life of what other people tell us.  To share our wisdom with each other, no other species can do anything like it and it’s because we can share our wisdom.  That we have a special responsibility it’s as the old Thai habits, noblesse oblige.  We have the power and that’s what gives us the obligation and that’s what make us free in a way that no bird is free for instance.