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An Essay on Free Will Paperback – February 20, 1986

ISBN-13: 978-0198249245 ISBN-10: 0198249241 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (February 20, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198249241
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198249245
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 0.6 x 5.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #793,361 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review


"This is an important book, and no one interested in issues which touch on the free will will want to ignore it."--Ethics


"An extremely intelligent, resourceful, and rigorous book. It is filled with subtle, sophisticated, imaginative, and often ingenious argumentation. Van Inwagen systematically systematically puts his finger on the operative intuitions of incompatibilism, and he presents incompatibilism as forcefully as has ever been done."--The Philosophical Review


About the Author

Peter Van Inwagen is at Syracuse University.

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38 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Sean on October 15, 2004
Format: Paperback
I consider Peter van Inwagen's AN ESSAY ON FREE WILL to be the best book on the topic of free will, which is written by a single author. The book has six chapters, which are entitled:

1. The problems and how we shall approach them.

2. Fatalism.

3. Three arguments for incompatibilism.

4. Three arguments for compatibilism.

5. What our not having free will would mean.

6. The traditional problem.

Van Inwagen sets out to answer two main questions in this book. First, the compatibility question, which is the question of whether free will is compatible or incompatible with determinism. Second, the traditional question, which is the question of whether we have free will.

Chapter 2, on fatalism, analyzes arguments that tries to show, on purely logical grounds, that we have no free will. Van Inwagen argues, however, that they commit modal fallacies subtle and not so subtle and hence that such attempts to establish fatalism (and the nonexistence of free will) on purely logical grounds fail.

In Chapter 3 he presents three arguments for incompatibility of free will--and he is happy to consider them as being three versions of the one argument for incompatibilism--and determinism. The most famous of the three is the third argument, which he dubbed 'the consequence argument' (CA). CA is an attempt to formalize the following intuitive argument:

"If determinism is true, then our acts are the consequences of the laws of nature and events in the remote past. But it is not up to us what went on before we were born, and neither is it up to us what the laws of nature are. Therefore, the consequences of these things (including our present acts) are not up to us" (p. 56).
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By S. Guha on May 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
Van Inwagen's first major work, the "Essay on Free Will" has in many ways revolutionized the free-will debate; terms like "compatibilism", "incompatibilism", "consequence argument", and so forth, central to today's debate on agency and freedom, were invented here. The book begins by explaining the issues involved--the problems associated with fatalism, arguments for compatibilism, arguments for incompatibilism, the consequences of our not having free will, and the "traditional problem", which is mainly the question of whether or not we have free will. Van Inwagen examines and criticizes fatalistic claims, criticizes arguments for compatibilism, argues at length for incompatibilism, and claims that lack of free will is incompatible with moral responsibility, and that the belief in free will is psychologically necessary for deliberation. He then gives reasons for thinking that we in fact have free will, and defends this claim against various objections, scientific and metaphysical. Among the most striking arguments of this part of the book is a disproof of the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

This book is a treasure-trove of valuable insights on its chosen subject, clear, lucid, and impressively argued. It is worth any philosopher's careful time, but especially those who are interested in the free-will debate. The book does suffer, however, from a certain surliness of tone, and a certain persistent defensiveness, which to my mind is unwarranted and unseemly. These stylistic defects are minor, however, compared to its great philosophical merits.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By TiZ on July 31, 2007
Format: Paperback
"An Essay on Free Will" is the best book ever written on the subject of free will. Van Inwagen presents the best arguments for and against compatibilism, the thesis that free will is compatible with determinism. He concludes that this thesis is false. Subsequently, he argues that we have free will, and thus that determinism is false. The book also includes arguments against fatalism and the principle of sufficient reason.
Very roughly, the argument for incompatibilism is that if determinism is true, then our acts are determined by events in the distant past along with the laws of nature; since these factors are outside our control, if determinism is true, our acts are not ultimately up to us. Very roughly, the argument for the conclusion that we have free will is that we are not morally responsible unless we have free will; since we are morally responsible, we have free will.
The book is clear and rigorous. Technical terms are defined and arguments are set forth carefully. Van Inwagen is patient with objections and the arguments of his opponents. He combines profound insight and a good dose of wit. This is a tour de force in analytic philosophy.
The book does not presuppose familiarity with the problems of free will. However, it employs some logical symbolism, and I think that those unfamiliar with the techniques of analytic philosophy will find it very difficult.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By C. Vance on October 10, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book demonstrates the view of incompatibilism. This means that human free will is incompatible with the idea that all future events are pre-determined by past events and the laws of nature. If you are looking for an actual explanation of free will, however, this is not it, since the book concludes that free will is a "mystery." Also, it is fairly beginner-friendly, written in candid language for the most part. A novice could skip over some of the difficult parts and still understand the important points van Inwagen makes.
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