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Freedom Evolves Paperback – January 27, 2004
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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 the Hardcover edition.
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 the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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. There are a lot of feathers to ruffle in this area. Affirming free will on a strict materialist basis would be quite a feat, if done clearly and convincingly. I believe that case can be made, and that it should be made, and that Dennett is qualified to make it. Unfortunately, in Freedom Evolves he didn't do so as clearly and convincingly as I wish he had. Until Dennett or somebody else does so, the task will remain long overdue.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
His conclusion: Even in a deterministic universe, free will exists, if consciousness is understood correctly.Read more