Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting

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Clarendon Press, 1984 - Philosophy - 200 pages
2 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 DouglasHofstadter) 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 tothreaten 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-madeselves" 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 anythingin 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.

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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 WHIP
The Dread Secret Denied

SelfMade Selves
The Art of SelfDefinition
Trying Our Luck

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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.

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