Idea Soup

26 Mar 2008 11:40 pm
mtvessel: (Default)
Dec 2007
Freedom Evolves - Daniel Dennett - Penguin, 2004
* * * *
I’m afraid that this is going to be a very long and intense review, partly because this is one of the most interesting books I’ve read recently and partly because I’m still not sure what I think of it, so I’ll be working it out as I go along. Sorry about that.

The book sets out to show that the concept of free will is compatible with naturalistic philosophies that eschew supernatural concepts such as souls, gods or Cartesian mind/body duality and rely purely on scientific knowledge. The problem is fundamentally one of determinism - since the physical universe appears to run in a causal fashion (at least above the quantum level), it follows that our behaviour must be determined by external genetic, environmental and historical causes and that therefore our perception of ourselves as free agents able to make independent choices must be an illusion. The unfortunate corollary is that any moral system based on personal responsibility must also be wrong, undermining the legal basis of most modern societies. Dennett argues that on the contrary, free will actually exists, and that this has come about because freedom of action and morality have themselves evolved from simpler beginnings.
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