Later Pragmatists: Quine on mind

In our discussions on William James, we alluded to later pragmatists and the relationship of pragmatism to verificationism (logical positivism). Does being a pragmatist, who tries to reduce philosophical problems to problems of how we should most intelligently act in the face of world, mean that you have to discount claims that can't be verified by empirical science?

Here's W.V.O. Quine (who is typically considered a pragmatist) being interviewed about our philosophy of mind topic, where he comes down as reductive materialist with sympathies to behaviorism:

Note his diagnosis of the problem of free will as being a result of philosophical confusion. Yes, of course, we will things and act according to our will, so in that sense, it's free, but our will is itself caused.

The interview continues here, with explicit talk of behaviorism:

If this is interesting to you, you can follow the youtube links to see the rest of the interview.


  1. says

    “we will things and act according to our will, so in that sense, it’s free, but our will is itself caused.”

    That makes sense to me – You can choose to change your mind and will something else before acting, but even your will to change is caused. If a choice originates in the mind or soul then it is caused by the nature of the mind or soul which is itself caused. Even if our souls are somehow eternal and outside of time then their nature is what their nature is – which is outside of our control.

    I don’t see how dualism, theism, introspection, consciousness, feedback, or time travelling can rescue traditional free will. You still end up with a chain of causes going back to a first cause, with random changes in direction caused by quantum effects along the way.

    I know Daniel Dennett isn’t very popular in your podcast but I like his idea of free will – In “Freedom Evolves” he talks about “the only freedom worth having” which I understood as the ability to model the world in your mind and make choices based on possible outcomes. The will to choose particular outcomes is still caused but his idea is that human beings have evolved to become very good at controlling those outcomes which makes us much more free than other animals.

    – Jon


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