Daniel Dennett’s Two-Stage Model of Free Will

Daniel Dennett proposed a two-stage model of free will in 1978 that is better than most libertarians, but he denies that it needs quantum  indeterminism in the first stage.

While he himself is a confirmed compatibilist, even a determinist, in “On Giving Libertarians What They Say They Want,” Chapter 15 of his 1978 book Brainstorms, Daniel Dennett articulated the case for a two-stage model of free will better than any libertarian.His “Valerian” model of decision making, named after the poet Paul Valéry, combines indeterminism to generate alternative possibilities, with (in our view, adequatedeterminism to choose among the possibilities.

“The model of decision making I am proposing, has the following feature: when we are faced with an important decision, a consideration-generator whose output is to some degree undetermined produces a series of considerations, some of which may of course be immediately rejected as irrelevant by the agent (consciously or unconsciously). Those considerations that are selected by the agent as having a more than negligible bearing on the decision then figure in a reasoning process, and if the agent is in the main reasonable, those considerations ultimately serve as predictors and explicators of the agent’s final decision.” (Brainstorms, p.295)

Dennett gives six excellent reasons why this is the kind of free will that libertarians say they want. He says,

  1. “First…The intelligent selection, rejection, and weighing of the considerations that do occur to the subject is a matter of intelligence making the difference.”
  2. “Second, I think it installs indeterminism in the right place for the libertarian, if there is a right place at all.”
  3. “Third…from the point of view of biological engineering, it is just more efficient and in the end more rational that decision making should occur in this way.”
  4. “A fourth observation in favor of the model is that it permits moral education to make a difference, without making all of the difference.”
  5. “Fifth – and I think this is perhaps the most important thing to be said in favor of this model – it provides some account of our important intuition that we are the authors of our moral decisions.”
  6. “Finally, the model I propose points to the multiplicity of decisions that encircle our moral decisions and suggests that in many cases our ultimate decision as to which way to act is less important phenomenologically as a contributor to our sense of free will than the prior decisions affecting our deliberation process itself: the decision, for instance, not to consider any further, to terminate deliberation; or the decision to ignore certain lines of inquiry.”

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