Through the use of the seemingly endless metaphors in his books Elbow Room (1984), Brainstorms (1978) and Freedom Evolves (2002), Daniel Dennett is able to construct a coherent stance on what it means to be morally responsible in a world that may or may not be determined. This paper explores Dennett’s notion of responsibility and its implications. Determinism is the doctrine that all events are necessitated by previous events which have caused the only possible future. In contrast, indeterminism is the idea that events do not come about through necessity. Indeterminism is often thought of as ‘freedom,’ but this is not so for Dennett who, like Hume before him, is a soft determinist (or compatibilist) and espouses the notion that deliberation and the free will associated with it is compatible with determinism; in other words, Dennett believes that knowing that a system is deterministic does not reveal anything about the necessity of the system. The free will he refers to is not the absolute freedom of one like Jean-Paul Sartre, but instead consists of what Dennett refers to in the subtitle of his book Elbow Room as ‘varieties of free will worth wanting’; these relevant freedoms are self-control and appropriate, meaningful deliberation. Discussions of control, the self, luck and skill, deliberation, fatalism, the “could have done otherwise” principle, and Dennett’s intentional strategy will serve as the spine for developing Dennett’s “arbitrary” responsibility, and a criticism of Dennett’s philosophical procedure will be noted.
Department, Program, or Center
Department of Philosophy (CLA)
Cadareanu, Patsy, "More Wobble: Daniel Dennett's Elbow Room Unscrambled" (2016). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. Accessed from
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