In this landmark 1984 work on free will, Daniel Dennett makes a case for compatibilism. His aim, as he writes in the preface to this new edition, was a cleanup job, "saving everything that mattered about the everyday concept of free will while jettisoning the impediments". In Elbow Room, Dennett argues that the varieties of free will worth wanting - those that underwrite moral and artistic responsibility - are not threatened by advances in science but distinguished, explained, and justified in detail.
Dennett tackles the question of free will in a highly original and witty manner, drawing on the theories and concepts of fields that range from physics and evolutionary biology to engineering, automata theory, and artificial intelligence. He shows how the classical formulations of the problem in philosophy depend on misuses of imagination, and he disentangles the philosophical problems of real interest from the "family of anxieties" in which they are often enmeshed - imaginary agents and bogeymen, including the Peremptory Puppeteer, the Nefarious Neurosurgeon, and the Cosmic Child Whose Dolls We Are.
Putting sociobiology in its rightful place, he concludes that we can have free will and science, too. He explores reason, control and self-control, the meaning of "can" and "could have done otherwise", responsibility and punishment, and why we would want free will in the first place. A fresh listening of Dennett's book shows how much it can still contribute to current discussions of free will.
This edition includes as its afterword Dennett's 2012 Erasmus Prize essay.
- Brandon B.
Good points but rambling
This book successfully convinced me to accept compatibilism at least to some degree. However it overall felt rambling and not focused. The author could have built a more direct case. Felt like this could have been slimmed down to a focused long essay.
Are you a man or a sphex?
This is the antidote to much of the thinking, or lack of thinking, that is coming out with increasing frequency in other works regarding responsibility, blame and free will from many eminent philosophers and psychologists who really should know better. This book will be of only growing importance as behaviors become increasingly understood in terms of their neurophysiological underpinnings and as these findings collide with traditional and intuitive understandings of free will and morality--although some people may be determined to disagree (and others might be indetermined to disagree). This bpook lacks some of the helpful angles provided in Dennett's other book on the same subject (Freedom Evolves), such as Conway's lifeworld computer program and the contrarian commentary by Conway. but this book brings other aspects of the problem and so the two works are complementary and I recommend reading them both to get the most out of this. The reader's voice is also easy to listen to and friendly, so even if you know you disagree with Dennett this is a nice way to take a closer look at his views.