“Humans think they are free, conscious beings, when in truth they are deluded animals. At the same time they never cease trying to escape from what they imagine themselves to be. Their religions are attempts to be rid of a freedom they have never possessed. In the twentieth century, the utopias of Right and Left served the same function. Today, when politics is unconvincing even as entertainment, science has taken on the role of mankind’s deliverer.” (John Nicholas Gray, British political philosopher)
Gray believes human volition and morality to be illusions.
However, in that light, one wonders why — beyond the fact, of course, that he had no choice not to do so — Dr. Gray bothered to write a book seeking to convince us that we have no free will and that moral values are illusory.
What would it mean, if we’re in the iron grip of necessity, for him to “persuade” us? Does he think it would be “good” if we were persuaded? Why? How?
And from what, exactly, would science “deliver” us? Is he serious? How can science, a human creation, “deliver” us from an amoral world? And in what would that “deliverance” consist? Can science make us free? Can it create good and evil? I doubt that Gray intends this, but I suppose that science can deliver us from nihilism, amorality, and determinism by vaporizing us.
When Gray writes of humans as “they,” is he unconsciously seeking to exempt himself? Does he believe that his own consciousness is an illusion? Does it make any sense to believe that one’s own consciousness is illusory? How would one entertain such a delusion without being conscious?
So many questions!
(In these thoughts, I’m returning to a subject that I broached a few days ago in a blog entry entitled “Why I called him ‘it.'”)
Incidentally, I don’t think that it’s actually possible to live life as a determinist. We don’t wake up in the morning and simply wait there for the Force to get us out of bed. We have to act as if we believe that we’re free, even if, in theory and while writing or lecturing on the subject, we believe that we’re not. That seems to me somehow significant. But the debate is an interesting one, and one with profound implications.