Consciousness, autonomy and responsibility
Professor Daniel Dennett has been awarded the Albert Wolters Visiting Distinguished Professorship by the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences.
Autonomy is a fancy word for self-control. It comes in degrees, and while some varieties can be largely the achievement of unconscious control, for instance, the abilities to stand, walk, run and avoid obstacles - the morally important varieties require consciousness: you can't make a promise or be moved by reasons without the ability to entertain alternatives, think about both the past and the future, and make informed decisions under uncertainty. We are not born with these abilities and achieving the level of autonomy of a morally responsible agent takes years of experience and maturation. This self-control is the only variety of free will worth wanting, and it has nothing to do with whether physics is deterministic or not. A thought experiment about emancipating a drone, making it more and more autonomous, reveals the outlines of the role of language and consciousness in making us the sorts of things that can be trusted to keep a promise.