- Paperback: 344 pages
- Publisher: Clarendon 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: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,017,223 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Free Will and Illusion
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"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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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:
1.) Before reading Free Will and Illusion I was under the impression that I could bracket the free will problem and continue doing ethics without knowing exactly where I stood on the issue. Smilansky does a very good job in showing that our conception of free will is tied up with too many things for this to be the case, including things politics and destributive justice.
2.) Before reading Free Will and Illusion, I, like most philosophers was under the spell of what Smilansky calls "The Assumption of Monism." I believed that either compatiblism or incompatiblism was THE truth about free will but, as Smilansky points out, this turns out to be assuming too much. In fact, bits of both could be true.
3.) Free Will and Illusion gives the best presentation I am aware of of a bleak view regarding free will, complete with existential tragedy.
Now I must register a few criticisms:
1.) Smilansky does not do as thorough and focused a job of demolishing libertarian free will as one might expect in a book like this. He seems to think the work has been better done elsewhere and often makes reference to evidence he apparently finds compelling but does not fully present.
2.) Smilansky is not as explicit with some of his background assumptions as might be nice. You will have to extract from the text, for instance, that for Smilansky "hard determinism" is a morally loaded term with implications for justice. Most philosophers define it much more narrowly and, though my memory may be failing me, I don't recall a passage where Smilansky explicitly states that he is going to deviate from common usage in this regard.
3.) There are many things in this book that could have been expanded on to give a more complete picture. For instance, Smilansky retains a surprisingly conventional view of the self despite the obvious pressure his illusionism presses on that view. A little more on this subject would have been welcome.
Overall, the book was very well done and revealed many years of (sometimes painful) philosophical ruminations by the author. We should not be so foolish as to confuse the lack of tidiness in Smilansky's views with sloppiness or lack of rigor. Rather, we should take them as an opportunity to view the world with a sense of tragedy.
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. Smilansky, like most philosophers unwilling to step out of their specialties, will not confront the big questions concerning truth and belief raised by Kant and others. Yet discussion of those general philosophical issues is crucial to making nonsuperficial comments on what the truth is, and even the meaning, of both "libertarian free will" and "determinism".
Oh, and Dostoyevsky said all this far better in "The Grand Inquisitor".