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The Significance of Free Will Paperback – October 1, 1998

4.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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"Provides the most fully articulated, the most comprehensive, and the best case for libertarianism that has ever been devised."--Richard Double, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania


"A magisterial work [that] culminates twenty-five years of thinking about the problems of free will. For those who believe both that robust free will cannot survive in a deterministic climate and that a viable free will need be scientifically respectable, Kane's work may prove salvific."--Mark Bernstein, University of Texas at San Antonio


"For more than a decade Robert Kane has vigorously defended libertarian free will in prose and print. Significance represents his definitive statement and it is a truly splendid book. Remarkably well organized and original, Significance requires rethinking standard convictions in the freedom/determinism debate about explanation, causation, responsibility, and worth. It's a must read for philosophers, psychologists, and cognitive scientists."--George Graham, University of Alabama at Birmingham


"This is, quite simply, the most thoughtful and detailed defense of libertarianism currently available." --Alfred R. Mele, Davidson College


",,,complex and carefully argued..."--Times Literary Supplement


From the Back Cover

In the past quarter-century, there has been a resurgence of interest in traditional philosophical questions about free will. The first of this book's aims is to explore the significance of this recent work, both for the advancement of understanding in one of philosophy's most perennially challenging areas, and for broad contemporary concerns in ethics, politics, science, religion, and humanistic studies. The book's second goal is to defend a classic "incompatibilist" or "libertarian" conception of free will in ways that are both new to philosophy and that respond to contemporary scientific learning. Incompatibilist or libertarian accounts of freedom are often criticized for being unintelligible or for having no place in the modern scientific picture of the world. Kane asserts to the contrary that a traditional view of free will (one that insists upon the incompatibility of free will and determinism) can be supported without the usual appeals to obscure or mysterious forms of agency and can be reconciled with recent developments in the sciences - physical, biological, neurological, cognitive, and behavioral. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195126564
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195126563
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 0.8 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,332,644 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
Robert Kane ably defends incompatibilism and proffers his own theory of libertarian agency that avoids the Scylla of noncausalism and the Charybdis of agent-causalism. Kane presents a causal-indeterminist theory of free action that makes use of work in contemporary physics and harmonizes with the dominant theory of action today--viz., the causal theory of action. His theory is compatible with a variety of physicalist theories of the mind and is one of the best candidates out there for a naturalized libertarian theory of free agency. There are drawbacks to his theory, however. Exploiting work in quantum mechanics to defend an incompatibilist theory of free action is not uncontroversial, and Kane seems sensitive to this fact. Overall, however, Kane does a first-rate job of presenting and defending his views while explaining the theories he holds up for criticism. His work reflects a commitment to taking philosophy and science as being on a continuum, but his work never ceases to be an excellent example of how to do conceptual analysis. This volume belongs in the library of anyone doing work in metaphysics and the philosophy of mind and action. It should also be of interest to philosophers of religion, ethicists, and people doing work in moral psychology.
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Format: Hardcover
Kane is meticulous, fair, accessible, and probably right on most aspects of the free will topic. This kind of book is sadly not read outside academe but should be -- in our time when personal responsibility is widely doubted, here is a highly informed defense of it by someone who does not avoid the difficult objections and who does not introduce any mysterious factors to make sense of it. I do not by any means agree with all of what Kane lays out but his discussion has taught me a lot, even where I find him probably wrong. One wishes that other books on the human mind and agency were as level-headed and respectfully (of all sides) written as this work.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is widely regarded as the definitive defense of what is called "libertarian free will," the belief that we must have some ability to "choose to do otherwise" that contravenes our scientific understanding of the fundamentally deterministic processes of the brain.

Six things stand out:

1) Kane's breakdown of the problem of free will into two pairs of questions: Compatibility (whether free will is compatible with determinism) and Significance (whether libertarian free will gives us something that compatibilist free will doesn't); and Intelligibility (does libertarian free will make sense, or is it fundamentally incoherent) and Existence (self-explanatory).

2) Kane's concepts of "Ultimate Responsibility" and "Self Forming Actions." While there is much more to UR than I can summarize here, the key idea is that much of our behavior might be determined in its moment, but that acts of genuine free will in our past would be responsible for shaping our character, thus making us responsible even for determined acts.

3) His chapter 6, a great answer for the question of Significance. This is the chapter that Kane has paid the least attention to when summarizing his own work in A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will and as editor of the Oxford Handbooks of Free Will, and it is worth the price of admission. I don't quite agree with all of it, but when it's right, it's beautifully right.

4) His solution to the Intelligibility question, which he finds in "efforts of will" and "conflicts of the will." The chief argument against the intelligibility of an actual ability to "choose to do otherwise" is that it makes no sense to even want the ability to choose to do other than what your deterministic past says you most want to do.
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Format: Paperback
Kane does a superb job of untangling the confusions about free will, and explaining why and how it is of fundamental importance. We all start by knowing we have freewill but 'clever' philosophers have always tried to bamboozle us into believing that we havent. Kane gives a scrupulously fair summary of the arguments but presents the case for 'incompatablist' free will in an overwhelming and successful manner.
Required reading for anyone seriously interested in these matters, which are fundamental to morality, personal identity, love, and everything else that matters.
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