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Freedom Evolves [Paperback]

Daniel C. Dennett
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 Feb 2004

Daniel C. Dennett's Freedom Evolves tackles the most important question of human existence - is there really such a thing as free will?

How can humans make genuinely independent choices if we are just a cluster of cells and genes in a world determined by scientific laws?

Here, Daniel Dennett provides an impassioned defense of free will. But rather than freedom being an eternal, unchanging condition of our existence, in reality, he reveals, it has evolved: just like life on the planet and the air we breathe. Evolution is the key to resolving this greatest of philosophical questions - and to understanding our place in the world as uniquely free agents.

Dennett shows that far from there being an incompatibility between contemporary science and the traditional vision of freedom and morality, it is only recently that science has advanced to the point where we can see how we came to have our unique kind of freedom.

'A serious book with a brilliant message'
  Matt Ridley, author of The Red Queen

'Powerful and ingenious ... The definitive argument that the human mind is a product of evolution'
  John Gray, Independent

'A book of sparkling brio and seemingly effortless panache ... Dennett at his best is as good as it gets'

Daniel C. Dennett is one of the most original and provocative thinkers in the world. A brilliant polemicist and philosopher, he is famous for challenging unexamined orthodoxies, and an outspoken supporter of the Brights movement. His books include Brainstorms, Brainchildren, Elbow Room, Breaking the Spell, Darwin's Dangerous Idea and Freedom Evolves.

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Freedom Evolves + Consciousness Explained (Penguin Science) + Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon
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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; New Ed edition (26 Feb 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140283897
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140283891
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 158,878 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Daniel Dennett's latest book Freedom Evolves continues the themes that have become his trademark in previous titles such as Consciousness Explained and Darwin's Dangerous Idea. His task is to give a thorough account of how we--and our minds--evolved and to calm fears that such an account presents a threat to the concept of free will.

In one of the most arresting and important chapters in the book, Dennett lays bare several common misconceptions about determinism and introduces a toy model which demonstrates how simple, mindlessly deterministic automata appear to make rational 'choices' to avoid harm in their limited environment. Dennett claims that misunderstanding of determinism is still prevalent among scientists and philosophers who subsequently misrepresent his views as they continue to resist a materialistic treatment of mind. Their fear is that if we should ever be revealed to be 'mere machines' this will bring with it a death sentence to consciousness and free-will. Such fears resist Dennett's argument as wrong and an insult to our sense of human dignity. After carefully addressing those fears, Dennett goes on to show how we humans can be both a creation of and a creator of culture; arguing that we are of course a species of animal but the emergence of human culture is a major innovation in evolutionary history providing our species with new tools to use, new topics to think about and new perspectives to think from.

What makes Dennett such an unforgettably stimulating philosopher is not just the breadth of his inter-disciplinary knowledge or his boldness and originality, it is that--knowing how difficult it is to get people to accept counter-intuitive ideas--he helps the reader visualise his materialistic/naturalistic world-view. There is undoubtedly still work to do to reconcile the philosophical implications of Darwinian materialism and what makes Dennett genuinely important is that he is set on trying to bring our precious values, including the notion of freedom, into line with Darwin and new found scientific discoveries.

He is encouraging us to drop the self-image we inherited from Christianity and the Western philosophical tradition with all its argument about a special extra added ingredient called consciousness that is unique to humans. Sure we have consciousness, but there's no magic in it, says Dennett. What we need, what Dennett is offering us, is a new improved self-image. Just because there isn't a self to be found sitting inside our brains looking out into the world and making decisions doesn't mean the self is an illusion.

There are other, better ways to think about the self, he stresses. He also argues that even though we are made of tiny mindless little robots that are oblivious to our hopes and needs, there's no shame in that and no reason for alarm. What we are made of and what we can hope and strive for are different things. Freedom Evolves is the culmination of three decades worth of research. --Larry Brown --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


?Dennett has taken on really big issues, made them clear, dealt with them seriously and given us much on which to reflect. . . . Crisp and critically insightful.? ("The Washington Post Book World") One of the most original thinkers of our time.? ("Science")

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
One widespread tradition has it that we human beings are responsible agents, captains of our fate, because what we really are are souls, immaterial and immortal clumps of Godstuff that inhabit and control our material bodies rather like spectral puppeteers. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
58 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Let's Get Metaphysical 14 July 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Daniel Dennett is not a man to shy from grand philosophical pronouncements. Having declared the book closed on the Mind debate in "Consciousness Explained" (others are still offering odds) and having found beyond reasonable doubt for the Botanist in the case of Darwin vs. God in "Darwin's Dangerous Idea", Daniel Dennett now purports to settle the third of the great metaphysical questions: Do we have free will? Not only that, indeed, but he purports - I think - to have found a method for achieving moral objectivity while he was at it.

Yes, I'm being a little ironic. But, for the most part, I'm a buyer: Dennett's books are certainly fascinating, and in large part compelling, and this one is no exception.

Just as there are similar strands between Consciousness Explained and Darwin's Dangerous Idea, there are some very familiar concepts here - old hands will recognise Conway's life world, the Prisoner's Dilemma, and Benjamin Libet's experiment which (seemed to) describe a "missing 300ms" between neural activity and consciousness of it - to the point where you might think to skip a few pages altogether.

This would be a mistake, however, for a reason which nicely complements Dennett's own "multiple drafts" theory of consciousness: repeated examination of the same ideas, in a new context, and with the benefit of a refined explanation, affords the reader new perspectives, and enhances comprehension of this book, but also the earlier ones. In the case of Libet's experiment, Dennett is much more compelling in his counterarguments than in Consciousness Explained - the revised draft gives a better view of the point.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Warning! Not for closed minds! 17 Feb 2004
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Actually, that review title's false. This book is a tool kit aimed precisely at closed minds. Assuming that even closed minds have niches and clefts, Dennett's kit is for opening those nooks and crannies. Every tool is a tiny wedge, each labelled "natural selection." The closed ramparts he wants to breach are concepts most of us hold dear - "determinism," "free will" and "consciousness." He doesn't want to destroy those concepts. He wants to part the seams to insert new material. He wants his readers to "adjust their imaginations" to allow some redefinitions of these and other firmly held traditions. For that, he insists, is what evolution is all about for humans - that ideas are constantly in flux. Holding steadfastly to beliefs that new ideas challenge is our most grievous flaw. Dennett's wedges, so earnestly and skillfully inserted in our minds through this book, offer the promise of a more rational future.
Dennett argues that "determinism" has suffered bad press. We need to recognize that many things are "determined" - gravity, sunlight, the way our body's cells unite to keep you operating. Determinism is simply the rules of the game of life. That doesn't mean that the rules fix every aspect of life. Various choices appear at different times at many levels. Does the gazelle flee right or left? Does a bird seek food at this tree or that one? How many of these choices are "conscious" and how many innate? Humans, as part of their cultural heritage, have tended to see only themselves as possessors of "free will." Dennett argues that there are too many levels and too many variations to take such an absolutist stance.
A long evolutionary trail operating within the "determined" world environment has led to us.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
The moment that a commentator introduces the notion of `Darwinian' into a discourse on a subject other than pure biology (and, in America, often that) the knives are out and there are immediate accusations of (genetic) determinism. Daniel Dennett follows on from his acclaimed `Darwin's Dangerous Idea' and dives into the shark-infested seas of free will versus determinism. However, any author who suggests that human behaviour and morality, or the mental faculties that control or influence them, may have evolved, tends to spend one book outlining his theory and the rest of his life answering his critics.
The author acknowledges that a naturalistic account of how our minds have evolved appears to threaten the traditional concept of free will, but feels that this fear has distorted philosophical and scientific investigations into the subject. He states his position at the outset: that the traditional link between determinism and inevitability is a mistaken one. He then sets about breaking that link and spends three chapters deriving his theory from first principals using models that demonstrate that inevitability is a design concept not a physical one. This is fundamental to his belief that evolution of the mind (whether or not it is a deterministic process) is not incompatible with free will.
Of course, contemplating the very organ that you are using to contemplate with is by definition difficult and ultimately limited. Dennett is an extremely lucid (and sometimes humorous) writer and there could be no clearer account of the ideas expressed in this book. But they are difficult.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Well-argued but dogmatic
Well-argued but presented as the truth instead of what it really is: an hypothetical cosmology. In the way, it creates so many dogmas of things about which we know nothing about... Read more
Published 1 day ago by Dr Pedro Fonseca
3.0 out of 5 stars Ok to read
This book was recommended by my course but I did not find it an interesting read. It was not the easiest to understand but that could just be me too as I did not find this topic... Read more
Published 13 months ago by AVS
3.0 out of 5 stars Freedom Explained
To be honest I was expecting more than I got here,from a renowned author.Most of the book concerns theories,thought experiments and suppositions that should be familiar to most... Read more
Published 22 months ago by nicholas hargreaves
4.0 out of 5 stars Dennett's Freedom
Natural Freedom
A Tool for Thinking About Determinism
Thinking About Determinism
A Hearing for Libertarianism
Where Does All The Design Come From? Read more
Published on 22 Aug 2011 by RR Waller
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely
I quite enjoyed this book.. I could relate to it in many ways, it's quite an amazing book...
In the chapter where he spoke of jumbo, I loved that part of illustration... Read more
Published on 20 Jun 2011 by Benir05
2.0 out of 5 stars You must (really) like philosophy
If you're anything like me, and like to read to get a better understanding of the science itself - read something from another auther than Dennett. Read more
Published on 14 April 2011 by Magne Thyrhaug
4.0 out of 5 stars Good in parts
This book left me with very mixed feelings. On the one hand I found it quite heavy going and that it didn't entirely live up to all the superlatives plastered over its covers. Read more
Published on 1 Jun 2007 by JA Foxton
4.0 out of 5 stars Striking and Convincing
Dennet writes with so much wit and charm that even the sceptical determinist can become beguiled with his explainations of conciousness and the evolutionary shaping of free... Read more
Published on 17 April 2006 by Andy Leppard
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