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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"Trading in a supernatural soul for a natural soul-is this a fair bargain?" Dennett, seeking to fend off "caricatures of Darwinian thinking" that plague his philosophical camp, argues in this incendiary, brilliant, even dangerous book that it is. Picking up where he left off in Darwin's Dangerous Idea (a Pulitzer and National Book Award finalist), he zeroes in on free will, a sticking point to the opposing camp. Dennett calls his perspective "naturalism," a synthesis of philosophy and the natural sciences; his critics have called it determinism, reductionism, bioprophecy, Lamarckianism. Drawing on evolutionary biology, neuroscience, economic game theory, philosophy and Richard Dawkins's meme, the author argues that there is indeed such a thing as free will, but it "is not a preexisting feature of our existence, like the law of gravity." Dennett seeks to counter scientific caricature with precision, empiricism and philosophical outcomes derived from rigorous logic. This book comprises a kind of toolbox of intellectual exercises favoring cultural evolution, the idea that culture, morality and freedom are as much a result of evolution by natural selection as our physical and genetic attributes. Yet genetic determinism, he argues, does not imply inevitability, as his critics may claim, nor does it cancel out the soul. Rather, he says, it bolsters the ideals of morality and choice, and illustrates why those ideals must be nurtured and guarded. Dennett clearly relishes pushing other scientists' buttons. Though natural selection itself is still a subject of controversy, the author, director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts, most certainly is in the vanguard of the philosophy of science.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The man who advanced our understanding of consciousness and evolution in books like Darwin's Dangerous Idea now addresses the issue of freedom.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (January 27, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142003840
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142003848
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #146,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

This is really what people seem to want or at least envision themselves having.
There he argued that there is no "ghost in the machine" --no mind or soul that makes decisions separate from our brain and other physical events and factors.
Paleo View
In Dennett's views, the metaphysical question of determinism vs. indeterminism is irrelevant to the issue of free will.
Bob Kopp

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

168 of 179 people found the following review helpful By J Scott Morrison HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The first point to make about this book is that Daniel Dennett's ability to engage readers is well-nigh unprecedented in current scientific or philosophic writing. Reading him is like watching a lion-tamer whose daring keeps us, breathless, on the edge of our seats.
His basic effort is to reconcile the determinism of Darwinism with the humanist's concern with human freedom. To do so he jettisons the notion that free will is a metaphysical concept. Rather, he explains it in terms of contemporary objective science, specifically via the same sort of evolution that led to the development of the eye or of language. He relies heavily on Richard Dawkin's concept of the evolution of memes: ideas that compete with each other just as other characteristics do via natural selection. In other words he argues that freedom of will grows and evolves. To achieve this conclusion he makes the point that determinism (a cause mechanistically producing an effect) is not the same as inevitability. He uses an example from baseball (shades of the late Stephen Jay Gould!) to make his point. He says that a batter has a choice of turning away from a pitch that is going to hit him or allowing it to hit him, depending on which action will help his team. His action is not determined by the prior history of the universe, but by his own analysis in the moment. In a different game, he might make a different choice. This, and other similar arguments, lead Dennett to the conclusion that the more we know, the more varieties and degrees of freedom we can have. Thus, modern man has more freedom than did, say, the Neanderthal.
Essentially then, Dennett, whose earlier work in the areas of consciousness (another concept that gives determinists fits) are seminal, asserts that natural science is the ally of freedom, not an argument against it. The audacious arguments he posits to support this position are breathtaking in their scope and are, for this reader, convincing.
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100 of 110 people found the following review helpful By Paul & Lynda Amore on March 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Daniel Dennett is attempting a thankless task, but one that is long overdue. Back in 1984, with the publication of Elbow Room, he sought to liberate free will - that perennial hobgoblin of philosophy - from a surplus of metaphysical baggage that is increasingly difficult to justify based on what we know about how brains work and how minds evolved. On these two topics, however, Elbow Room required the reader to reserve judgment. Since then, Dennett has given the world Consciousness Explained (1991), which, as the title implies, tries to tell us how brains work, and Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995), which tries to explain how minds evolved, and in the process provides one of the most lucid accounts yet of the philosophical implications of Darwinism. Now, with Freedom Evolves, Dennett attempts to tie it all together.
The problem with this book, as far as I am concerned, is that it feels rushed and disjointed. I was more than happy to read all 500+ pages of DDI because the topic deserved that much space and, honestly, that book is a pleasure to read. The topic of free will, if anything, requires even more space to develop, and I would have gladly sat through six or seven hundred pages if necessary. As it is, my understanding of Dennett's arguments is sketchy - even after letting them sink in a few days and re-reading a few sections - so sketchy, in fact, that I won't attempt anything like a synopsis here, for fear of bungling the job. Beyond that, I was a little annoyed with the amount of recycled material from CE and DDI.
So why is Daniel Dennett's task a thankless one? Because he insists that free will is not an "illusion" as some hardcore materialists claim - nor is it some "extra something" in the sense implied by traditional dualist philosophers.
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63 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Todd I. Stark VINE VOICE on April 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Although this book doesn't introduce anything radically new for those who follow Dennett, it does clarify his previous ideas on consciousness, free will, and human nature, and this
is far from a trivial matter. For anyone seriously interested in the question of how human free will can possibly be compatible with physical laws of cause and effect, and thought that nothing else could be reasonably said on the matter, this book is an essential. It will indeed help you clarify your thoughts, which is afterall one of the best things a work of philosophy can do for you, and one all too rarely accomplished by most philosophers.
For those who wonder about the conditions that foster human freedom and those that suppress it, this book doesn't quite delve into political or social philosophy per se, but it is at least a start at a real answer by providing clear thoughts and useful science and meta-science.
One very good reason for this book is that while Dan Dennett is a clear and vivid writer, particularly for a philosopher, he is also frequently rather badly misunderstood for some reason.
He has been described by reviewers as denying that human beings have free will or conscious awareness, and he has been accused of being an "ultraDarwinist," although he himself disputes these claims. In Freedom Evolves, he ties his previous ideas together and presents them in a way that will resist these misinterpretations of his ideas.

First, Dennett defends the compatibilist tradition (where free will and determinism are considered compatible in principle). He believes that the universe is probably deterministic in its physical nature, but that this doesn't mean our lives are pre-determined, nor does it prevent us from having forms of freedom worth working and fighting for.
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