Sunday, March 19, 2017

Book Review: Free Will - An Examination of Human Freedom

'Free Will - An Examination of Human Freedom' by Magnus Vinding is about our ideas about our own freedom. The book begins by asking few questions like, Can we make choices?, Can we be said to be free in any way if our actions are caused by prior causes beyond our own control?, Is there just one possible predetermined outcome of the universe?, Could we have acted differently than we did in a given situation?, Can we meaningfully reward and punish people for their actions?, and, Can there be any morality if we do not perceive ourselves and other people as unmoved movers?
The book tries to clear this confusion and solve the problem of free will once and for all. It explains the dichotomy between 1) our intentions, motivations and choices, and 2) the physical world.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part, which consists of the first three chapters, has the purpose of clarifying what is true about human freedom, as listed above, while the second part, which is just the fourth chapter, argues about what we ought to believe about human freedom. Thereby the confusion that comes from failing to distinguish between these two questions is avoided.
It then goes on to examine questions like,
If the outcome of the world is just determined by physical causes that are caused by other physical causes, then why do anything at all?
 If we are caused to act by prior causes ultimately beyond our own control, doesn't it imply that there is no reason to try to make a difference in the world?  Is free will compatible with determinism?
 Another issue examined here is that we cannot get on with our lives without presupposing free will, or presupposing our own freedom.
 Free will is either the assumption that each of us could have behaved differently than we did in the past, and that we are the conscious source of most of our thoughts and actions in the present. Or it can be the ability to act according to one's own intentions.
The book however mentions, while summing up the issues involved in free will, that an incorrect definition can lead to anarchy. This being one of the most potent questions to shape our society, our present condition is largely a result of our belief about the manifestation of free will.

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