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Free Will: A Guide for the Perplexed (Guides for the Perplexed) Hardcover – 17 Mar 2011


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Continuum Publishing Corporation (17 Mar 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1441196234
  • ISBN-13: 978-1441196231
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 6,158,031 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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"Stimulating and engaging: Mawson is a genial guide, drawing the reader into an extended conversation on a perennially perplexing problem of philosophy. The standard ground is covered, but with regular original touches - and, if perplexity is not removed altogether by Mawson's common sense defence of an agent-causalist libertarianism, at least it will be a perplexity better understood." John Bishop, Professor of Philosophy, The University of Auckland, New Zealand

About the Author

Tim Mawson is Fellow and Tutor of Philosophy at the University of Oxford (St Peter's College). He is currently Secretary to the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion and is author of Belief in God: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (OUP, 2005).

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Some readers might like this book. The author appears to have aimed at approachability, and it is possible that this will prove attractive - even, in some cases perhaps, helpful. Unfortunately, it is not an experiment that worked for me. After the first 20 pages or so I exercised my free will by putting the book aside and looking for something better. The problem was that, for me, reading Mawson was rather as I imagine the experience would be of wading through candy floss. Did he, I wonder, dictate the text straight on to a machine for subsequent transcription? Has he a garrulous aunt whose telephone calls have fatally affected his style? Frankly, I needed, as a beginner, something more pellucid and succinct. I would recommend instead Robert Kane, 'A Contemporary Introduction to Free Will (OUP, 2005). It's part of a series called 'Fundamentals of Philosophy'. (I should add that I have no connection with either author or publisher - I just like trying out a variety of books and am very happy to pass on my thoughts to those who have better things to do with their money.)
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Format: Paperback
I love this book and full credit is due to TJ Mawson for writing, in such an engaging and clear way, about a topic with which philosophers of all stripes have wrestled for centuries. I like the way he clearly defines the various positions (compatibilism, incompatibilism, libertarianism, etc) and there is a very full bibliography as a pointer to further reading. Having spent some time thinking through these issues I conclude that humans do have volition, that we are, to some degree, authors of our own stories, and that determinism is false. That said, I probably might change my mind again in the future!

This subject is not an arcane one; it is not about "counting the number of angels that can dance on the heads of a pin". Some contemporary writers, such as Sam Harris (one of the "new atheists"), have asserted flat-out that free will is an illusion. Realising the potentially disturbing ethical consequences of this view, such thinkers have sought to create a "scientific" morality. Mawson, in his gently playful way, hints at the dangers of this point of view.

My philosophy, one that has been influenced by the neo-Aristotleian views of Ayn Rand and others, is that man is, by nature, a volitional being. To think is to choose; also, determinists commit the fallacy of reductionism. One cannot reduce the phenomenon of consciousness to to just the molecules and other bits of the brain. The mind is an emergent, complex entity that is greater than the sum total of its parts. And in the process of learning and through introspection, we develop a sense of self. Determinists may assert that introspection is an illusion, but if so, then other forms of perception are equally illusory.
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Format: Paperback
An accessible book which entices you in without scaring you off with big concepts too early. I would recommend this book to anyone wishing to begin a study of the free will issue.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 2 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Free or not 14 July 2011
By Hande Z - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Books "for the perplexed" tend to aim at the novice, but it is fair to say that free will and determinism are subjects that even advanced students of philosophy and science find difficult and may find such books, if well written, helpful. This is one of the helpful ones. In spite of the difficult subject matter, Mawson has written a well-argued book that explains the major positions one can take in this matter, namely, Deterministic (broadly, that a single cause propels us inexorably down history (hence we have no choice; no free will to do otherwise); Compatabilistic (the view that accepts Determinism and also maintain that we can still have free will); Incompatabilistic (the view that accepts Determinism and that consequently, we cannot have free will); Libertarian (broadly, a more sophisticated form of Incompatabilism); and Ultimate authorship (a specific position that moral responsibility requires ultimate authorship - someone must take responsibility for moral responsibility). This book will engage the novice as well as the advanced student. The basic question is how free are we if we are free at all? How much influence do we have in the course of events or are we dragged against our will by events the cause of which begun before we did and are moving forwards taking us with them? Mawson also discusses the very interesting question of free will in regard to God - how free is God? The issues are clearly discussed and the examples are fascinating. We may not be as free as we might have thought, and because Mawson seems to be a Libertarian himself, his book inclines towards the point that we are freer than we think. The ultimate answer, however, remains elusive.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Surprised to find an argument for libertarianism 12 Jun 2013
By Kevin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
So, I gave the book four stars because I enjoyed reading it and found it a great introduction to arguments for libertarian free will. However, an important disclaimer ought to be made, that I found the title to be somewhat deceptive. The title's statement that it is a "guide for the perplexed" made me believe that it would be an overview of the various positions, and the strengths and weaknesses of each. However, this is not the case; the author is quite explicit that his intention is to argue for libertarian free will. He does present each of the alternatives, but does not pretend to be impartial in doing so. Overall, his arguments against other positions were compelling, but this is hardly surprising given the intuitive appeal of libertarianism. I thought that the final part of the book, in which he attempts to give a positive account of how to make sense of it, was weak, to say the least. I didn't find answers to the obvious questions about agent causation. Overall, though, it was a relatively accessible introduction to a very interesting, difficult, and hotly debated topic in philosophy, arguing for a very minority position.
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