Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting

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MIT Press, 1984 - Psychology - 200 pages

Anyone who has wondered if free will is just an illusion or has asked 'could I havechosen otherwise?' after performing some rash deed will find this book an absorbing discussion of anendlessly fascinating subject. Daniel Dennett, whose previous books include Brainstorms and (withDouglas Hofstadter) The Mind's I, tackles the free will problem in a highly original and wittymanner, drawing on the theories and concepts of several fields usually ignored by philosophers; notjust physics and evolutionary biology, but engineering, automata theory, and artificialintelligence.In Elbow Room, Dennett shows how the classical formulations of the problem inphilosophy depend on misuses of imagination, and he disentangles the philosophical problems of realinterest from the "family of anxieties' they get enmeshed in - imaginary agents, bogeymen, and direprospects that seem to threaten our freedom. Putting sociobiology in its rightful place, heconcludes 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 ofcontrol and self-control-concepts often skimped by philosophers but which are central to thequestions of free will and determinism. A chapter on "self-made selves" discusses the idea of selfor agent to see how it can be kept from disappearing under the onslaught of science. Dennett thensees what can be made of the notion of acting under the idea of freedomdoes the elbow room we thinkwe have really exist? What is an opportunity, and how can anything in our futures be "up to us"? Heinvestigates the meaning of "can" and "could have done otherwise," and asks why we want free will inthe first place.We are wise, Dennett notes, to want free will, but that in itself raises a host ofquestions about responsibility. In a final chapter, he takes up the problem of how anyone can everbe guilty, and what the rationale is for holding people responsible and even, on occasion, punishingthem.Daniel C. Dennett is Professor of Philosophy at Tufts University. Elbow Room is an expandedversion of the John Locke Lectures which he gave at Oxford University in 1983.A BradfordBook.


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User Review  - ehabkost - LibraryThing

I really enjoy the subjects Dennett discusses on his books. However, after reading Consciousness Explained, I think Elbow Room didn't match my expectations in some way, despite being an interesting ... Read full review

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User Review  - _Greg - LibraryThing

The first decent moderrn philosophical support for free will. This is shorter and easier reading than his later book "Freedom Evolves". Read full review


The Bogeymen
Semantic Engines Perpetual Motion Machines and a Defective
Reflection Language and Consciousness
Community Communication and Transcendence
Control and SelfControl
Agentless Control and Our Concept of Causation
The Uses of Disorder
Designing the Perfect Deliberator
Real Opportunities
Avoid Avoidable Inevitable
Could Have Done Otherwise
What We Care About
Why Do We Want Free Will?
The Dread Secret Denied

SelfMade Selves
The Art of SelfDefinition
Trying Our Luck

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About the author (1984)

Born in Boston in 1942, Daniel Clement Dennett explores the philosophical links between mind and brain. His first book, Content and Consciousness (1969) was one of the earliest to examine this issue. It is one that he expands on in his other books, including Consciousness Explained (1991), where he uses philosophical "materialism" to examine the link between mind and body. Dennett is a Distinguished Arts and Sciences Professor, a Professor of Philosophy and director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University in Medford Mass. He is interested in the development of artificial intelligence, was the co-founder of the Curricular Software Studio at Tufts, and has aided in the design of computer exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of Science in Boston and the Computer Museum in Boston.

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