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Customer Review

26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hardly disappointing and poor..., November 14, 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting (Paperback)
Daniel Dennett's _Elbow Room_ is a nicely written piece on the compatibility of determinism and free will. He notes that even if the world is deterministic, there is a certain amount of freedom (or elbow room) for man to operate within. The previous reviewer who stated that "you don't have to think about it very long to realize that free will can't exist in a deterministic [universe]" has apparently missed all of the philosophical work relating to "Compatibilism," which is the very idea that free will and determinism are not mutually exclusive. Dennett presents a nice case for the plausibility of this viewpoint, pointing out why the scary thought experiments that others have created to make determinism seem so horrible cannot be reality. He also makes a clear distinction (that is sometimes blurred) between fatalism and determinism, and in questioning some underlying assumptions makes the idea of free will much more understandable. It may take some concentration to read (I am only beginning to study Philosophy and so had to read a number of sentences over before fully comprehending), but that hardly takes away from the quality of the book. Definitely recommended!
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 27, 2012 5:53:02 PM PST
B. Henshaw says:
*The previous reviewer who stated that "you don't have to think about it very long to realize that free will can't exist in a deterministic [universe]" has apparently missed all of the philosophical work relating to "Compatibilism," which is the very idea that free will and determinism are not mutually exclusive.*

I assume the commenter was referring to the normal understanding of what free will constitutes. Compatibilist "freedom" is entirely deterministic. So I personally do not think it is accurate to say that compatibilism says that free will is compatible with determinism, or that they are not mutually exclusive. While the words may seem true on the surface, this is extremely shallow, since the compatibilist view redefines freedom so that it amounts to determinism. In that case, "compatibilism" really only shows that determinism is compatible with determinism, and who can doubt it?

Often philosophers get really bogged down in trying to solve a problem and give it a name that suggests a solution, when the concept itself offers no solution at all. In other words, when you redefine freedom to fit with determinism, you are not making free will compatible with determinism. You are just redefining words to make them fit and then giving it a fancy title which suggests that some sort of solution has been reached, when clearly it has not (as I suppose the previous commenter was suggesting). So to just say something about the compatibilism discussion seems like hand waving that does not really grapple with the problem (just as "compatibilism" doesn't really grapple with the problem).

Let me give you a few examples. A married person and a bachelor are mutually exclusive by definition. Suppose someone really wanted to show that they are compatible. Can it be done? I say, no. But what if one redefined "bachelor" to mean "not single", or "married"? Voila! Now bachelor and married are "compatible", how cool! Or suppose you want to make a circle compatible with a square. Can it be done? I suppose you could just file down to corners of the square until you get a circle, but would anyone then say that squares and circles are compatible? Hardly. Such semantic trickery might be satisfying to some philosophers desperate to make their view work, but it is not satisfying to me (and many others who just take the time to "think about it" as the other commenter apparently suggested). But what do we know, after all? We aren't philosophers, so we probably are not qualified to make such observations (at least not without being quickly dismissed with hand waving and the use of catch words like "combatibilism"). Just my 2 cents.
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