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Free Will and Illusion Paperback – December 26, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0199252596 ISBN-10: 0199252599

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (December 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199252599
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199252596
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,718,566 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"I enjoyed this book...Smilansky shows a remarkable breadth of learning and an admirable ability to address what needs addressing without engaging in make-work projects. The second half of the book, devoted to Illusionism, is interesting reading."--Richard Double, Mind

"We should recognise the interest and power of Smilansky's project (and achievement)...integrating the concern with the possibility of (genuine) agency into the concerns of applied philosophy."--Graham McFee, Res Publica

"Saul Smilansky's Free Will and Illusion is a large, ambitious, and thoughtful book which takes the debate in new directions, while also illuminating more traditional puzzles ...Smilansky devotes considerable space to a subtle and thorough exploration of the role of illusion in our views about free will...A distinctive and helpful feature of Smilansky's approach is to widen the scope of free will to include issues in 'distributive' as well as 'retributive' justice."--John Martin Fischer, Times Literary Supplement

"[A] complex and subtle new work, an original and challenging book which anyone interested in the free will problem will wish to read."--James Lenman, Iyyun

About the Author

Saul Smilansky is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Haifa, Israel.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
A bracing read. Technical and thorough but clear as gin. No matter what your perspective, it's in here---and gets a fair hearing. Suitable for lay readers as well as professionals, this is a good introduction to free will/determinism and a challenging new argument at the same time. If this book can't advance our understanding of the issues, nothing can.
If you don't like bad writing and needless abstraction, and if you're unsatisfied with more popular treatments which sacrifice perspicacity for rhetoric, Smilansky is deeper and clearer than others about what our ideas of freedom mean *to us*. He cuts the clutter and gives it straight, showing how philsophy is relevant to our everyday experience. After familiarizing yourself with his terminology (which is easily got, especially with the glossary in the back), you'll see the pros and cons of each position and be forced to consider the author's questions: Why hasn't the free will/determinism question been solved? Maybe because each side has part of the truth? Maybe because they talk past each other? And does this breakdown in communication itself perhaps say something about the structure and meaning of the concepts? Maybe the free will/determinism question is not resolvable along traditional lines. If not, then what?
Smilansky's examinations of illusion in psychology are rewarding in themselves, whether or not you agree that they bear on our belief in freedom.

For lay readers:
As the biological sciences continue to progress, it appears that more and more thinking people have on their minds (or in their gut) many vaguely limned but emotionally charged questions about what is a human being's place in the world and in the universe. Chief among these questions is that of how free we are.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Spencer Case on November 7, 2010
Format: Paperback
Imagine stepping out of Plato's cave to find, not an ineffable view of the sun-like Form of the Good, but a sprawling apocalyptic wasteland.

Philosophers are generally optimists and generally expect that their inquiry will reveal an order of things that is, if not ideal, at least elegent and simple. Smilansky, on the other hand, is willing to countenance the idea that the universe itself is profoundly ugly, even grotesque, at bottom. This is never more true of Smilansky than in Free Will and Illusion, where he advances the unsettling thesis that the universe, with its lack of libertarian free will, is simply tragic and frightening.

It would be easy and even unimaginative for the village nihilist to advance a thesis like this, glibly laughing at the guillible reader as his deepest convictions go up in smoke before his eyes. But Smilansky is no simple nihilist, nor even a sophisticated nihilist. I know not only from reading this book but also from personal conversations with Smilansky that he is committed to humanistic values on a very deep level. The fact that Smilansky is so committed, and that he seems so reluctant to share the unsavory conclusions he finds here, only makes the sense of tragedy seem more stark.

This, in short, is our predicament. Libertarian free will is false, but so too is hard determinism. This leaves us with compatibalistic values, but this is cold comfort as far as Smilansky is concerned--while better than nothing, compatibalism can never completely fill the gap left in our souls by the absence of libertarian free will. The illusion of libertarian free will must.

I found this book very interesting. Here are the advantages of reading this book:

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14 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on September 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
Smilansky's argument in a nutshell (see also Smilansky's own quite helpful summary at (...): There is no "libertarian free will", meaning that our volitional actions cannot somehow escape from the determinism governing other natural phenomena. For Smilansky, in fact, the very idea of libertarian free will is incoherent. Smilansky differs from many determinists, however, in deeply regretting the nonexistence of libertarian free will. Without some *feeling* that one is free in the libertarian sense, moral thought and behavior is largely hollow. This is so regardless of the ability of compatibilistic criteria of when one is and is not acting "of one's free will" to give some substance to morality, even when the feeling of libertarian freedom is lacking. Smilansky therefore commends the fact that people normally have the illusion that they possess libertarian free will, and encourages those lacking that illusion not to burst everyone else's bubble.
One feels that Smilansky is not praising illusion for its own sake, but only as something regretfully required in light of what he believes to be the basic truth of determinism. Were Smilansky willing to accept libertarian free will, then certainly he would jettison his praise of illusion. But this starts us down a philosophical slippery slope. Why not say, for instance, "Smilansky's book is without real merit, but it is helpful to promote the illusion that it is a major work of moral philosophy"? If one holds with Kant, then all our beliefs about reality are "illusions" in some sense of the term, in that the actual data present to our senses ("noumenon") is nothing like how we interpret it in our judgments.
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