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Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting Paperback – November 21, 1984

ISBN-13: 978-0262540421 ISBN-10: 0262540428 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Series: Bradford Books
  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: A Bradford Book (November 21, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262540428
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262540421
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #66,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Daniel C. Dennett is University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. He is the author of Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness (MIT Press) and other books.

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Customer Reviews

Dennett takes an interesting approach to the Free Will problem in this book.
SkepticalMind
Also, Dennett did not examine the basis in evolutionary psychology for human adaptation of that feeling studied by Libet, Kornhuber and Deecke.
Douglas Keeth
Compared to most philosophers and given the complexity of the arguments that he makes, Dennett is relatively easy to read and clear.
J. Alfonso

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 49 people found the following review helpful By J. Alfonso on March 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
Compared to most philosophers and given the complexity of the arguments that he makes, Dennett is relatively easy to read and clear. Be warned though, if you are not used to reading philosophy, this probably will not be the easiest book to follow. If you are used to reading philosophy, particularly analytic philosophy, this book should be very easy for you to follow.
Dennett's approach to the problem of free will reminds me of Wittgenstein's approach to traditional philosophical problems. Wittgenstein claimed that the best approach to take with many philosophical questions is to "dissolve" rather than solve them. He held that certain questions cannot be asked or at best do not make sense. The job of the philosopher is to find those questions and expunge them (This is an oversimplification but it does at least capture some aspects of Wittgenstein's philosophy). I will not lay out for you how exactly Dennett arrives at a "solution" in this book, but his method does resemble-- in some ways-- Wittgenstein's method.
One can only marvel at the way Dennett presents philosophical problems. His presentation is both humorous and thorough. While reading his critique of some people who have written on the topic of free will, I often laughed out laud, given his somewhat sardonic, but at the same time, apparently accurate characterization of those writings.
One last note, if you think similar to the reviewer who gave Dennett one star, be warned; Dennett is not going to directly answer the problem of how if the statement "everything that will happen necessarily will happen" is true free will exists, i.e., free will in the sense that I could have done otherwise. If you are expecting a direct answer to this, again, you could be disappointed. But then again, you could like what you read. Dennett might change your mind about what counts as free will and what counts as a valid response to the question of whether or not free will exists.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
Daniel Dennett's _Elbow Room_ is a nicely written piece on the compatibility of determinism and free will. He notes that even if the world is deterministic, there is a certain amount of freedom (or elbow room) for man to operate within. The previous reviewer who stated that "you don't have to think about it very long to realize that free will can't exist in a deterministic [universe]" has apparently missed all of the philosophical work relating to "Compatibilism," which is the very idea that free will and determinism are not mutually exclusive. Dennett presents a nice case for the plausibility of this viewpoint, pointing out why the scary thought experiments that others have created to make determinism seem so horrible cannot be reality. He also makes a clear distinction (that is sometimes blurred) between fatalism and determinism, and in questioning some underlying assumptions makes the idea of free will much more understandable. It may take some concentration to read (I am only beginning to study Philosophy and so had to read a number of sentences over before fully comprehending), but that hardly takes away from the quality of the book. Definitely recommended!
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 20, 1998
Format: Paperback
Nothing can make the free will problem an easy one--but Dennett convinces that it is not necessary to give up too much in denying pure, idealistic free will. He effectively disarms our greatest fears of determinism by demonstrating what it is not in a fascinating array of metaphors and analogies, some of which are truly poetic.
This book expounds that by oversimplifying the concept of causality, we have unnecessarily complicated the free will 'problem'. Free will is indeed real; however, it is not the fingerprint of a supernatural deity--it is a product of material reality.
If you are bothered by the suggestion that perhaps our will is not as free as it seems, this book should set your mind at ease. If you have surrendered to the jaws of determinism, this book will set you straight. Either way, once you turn the last page, you will feel neither threatened nor constrained that something caused you to read it.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Norman Bearrentine on September 5, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book reminds me of the pre-Copernican astronomers who were saddled with a commitment to keep the Earth at the center of the universe no matter what. In order to explain the movement of the planets, they were forced to invent elaborate Rube Goldberg contraptions to reconcile what they could see with what they were committed to believing.

Dennett seems embarked on a similar enterprise: he is committed to maintaining the idea of free will no matter what, and is willing to jump through any number of hoops to do it. Following his mental gymnastics can be quite a challenge.

Why is he compelled to sustain his belief in free will? "It has seemed very important to demonstrate that we are not just acting out our destinies but somehow choosing our own courses, making decisions--not just having `decisions' occur in us."(p. 1)

He says that if we are "hoodwinked" into believing that we don't have free will, the "implications... are almost too grim to contemplate," which he demonstrates with a number of grim metaphors: We would be like "a dog on a leash being pulled behind a wagon," "a mere domino in a chain," "disabled as a chooser." "Small wonder then that we should be highly motivated to look on the bright side and find the case for free will compelling if we possibly can."(p. 168)

Dennett's contention that you have to believe in free will or be "disabled as a chooser," should be empirically testable since the entry for "free will" in Wikipedia lists several major religions and scientific disciplines that consider the idea of free will untenable. There are at least several million people on this planet who don't believe in free will and seem to be living happy lives; billions of choices must "occur in" them every day without causing any major distress.
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