Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting

Front Cover
Oxford University Press, 1984 - Free will and determinism - 200 pages
15 Reviews
Anyone who has wondered if free will is just an illusion or has asked 'could I have chosen otherwise?' after performing some rash deed will find this book an absorbing discussion of an endlessly fascinating subject. Daniel Dennett, whose previous books include Brainstorms and (with Douglas Hofstadter) The Mind's I, tackles the free will problem in a highly original and witty manner, drawing on the theories and concepts of several fields usually ignored by philosophers; not just physics and evolutionary biology, but engineering, automata theory, and artificial intelligence. In Elbow Room, Dennett 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' they get enmeshed in - imaginary agents, bogeymen, and dire prospects that seem to threaten our freedom. Putting sociobiology in its rightful place, he concludes that we can have free will and science too. Elbow Room begins by showing how we can be "moved by reasons" without being exempt from physical causation. It goes on to analyze concepts of control and self-control-concepts often skimped by philosophers but which are central to the questions of free will and determinism. A chapter on "self-made selves" discusses the idea of self or agent to see how it can be kept from disappearing under the onslaught of science. Dennett then sees what can be made of the notion of acting under the idea of freedomdoes the elbow room we think we have really exist? What is an opportunity, and how can anything in our futures be "up to us"? He investigates the meaning of "can" and "could have done otherwise," and asks why we want free will in the first place. We are wise, Dennett notes, to want free will, but that in itself raises a host of questions about responsibility. In a final chapter, he takes up the problem of how anyone can ever be guilty, and what the rationale is for holding people responsible and even, on occasion, punishing them.
  

What people are saying - Write a review

User ratings

5 stars
3
4 stars
8
3 stars
3
2 stars
0
1 star
1

Review: Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting

User Review  - Dave Peticolas - Goodreads

What does it mean to have free will? Is free will incompatible with determinism? With indeterminism? What does it mean to control oneself? What does it mean to make a choice? Why do we want free will ... Read full review

Review: Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting

User Review  - Mike - Goodreads

This is an excellent little series of essays on free will which only occasionally gets bogged down in "philosophese". Dennett very deftly takes on the fears based on the sneaking suspicion that we don ... Read full review

Contents

The Bogeymen
7
Overview
17
Semantic Engines Perpetual Motion Machines and a Defective
26
Reflection Language and Consciousness
34
Community Communication and Transcendence
43
Control and SelfControl
50
Agentless Control and Our Concept of Causation
57
The Uses of Disorder
66
Overview
100
Designing the Perfect Deliberator
107
Real Opportunities
115
Avoid Avoidable Inevitable
123
Could Have Done Otherwise
131
What We Care About
139
Why Do We Want Free WHIP
153
The Dread Secret Denied
165

SelfMade Selves
74
The Art of SelfDefinition
81
Trying Our Luck
92

Common terms and phrases

References to this book

All Book Search results »

About the author (1984)

Daniel C. Dennett is Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Elbow Room is an expanded version of the John Locke Lectures which he gave at Oxford University in 1983.

Bibliographic information