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on 27 May 2016
Although somewhat biased because of the writer's personal views which beg many philosophical question, he has done well to trace the free-will debate in a way that is easy to read and take in. A quality read as an introduction.
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on 23 June 2007
Compared to the other Very Short Introductions I have read, this one is a let-down. For one thing, one would have thought that due to shortage of space, unnecessary repetitions would be ruled out. But to the contrary, this book hammers you with the same points over and over with only slight reformulation. For a book of 120 small pages, it is surprisingly hard to get through. Second, far too much space is devoted to the free will problem as it was seen historically. Though perhaps interesting, one chapter would have been sufficient. Presumably what interests most readers is the problem as currently viewed. Third, the author's own views (which seem to boil down to 'we have an intuition that we are free, and nobody can disprove it, ha-ha-ha') are too muddled in with the rest of the text and would have been better separated out into its own chapter. My recommendation is to go elsewhere for an introduction to the free will problem.
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on 3 November 2007
I have read a large number of the Very Short Introduction series and am on the whole very impressed with them. Reading this particular book, however, I felt I was reading a very bad exam paper. The text is replete with the type of flawed argumentation one would expect from a keen but unpromising high school pupil. It was so bad that I was able to find at least one major flaw per page, often more. Some of the worst flaws include:

* Pink frequently assumes that because something need not be the case that it therefore is not the case.
* Pink fails to present a theory for freedom, relying instead on very poor attempts to undermine the counter-arguments to the case for freedom of the will, arguments he is either willfully distorting or has not understood.
* Pink makes the flawed assumption that theories of causal determinism are necessarily reductive.
* Pink's arguments against determinism, garrulous as they are, are not more sophisticated than 'we have free will because we perceive that we have it'.
* Pink's book is, as another reviewer has highlighted, highly repetitive. In fact, this is an understatement. It could not be more repetitive if it tried. This could easily have fitted onto 30 pages.
* Pink takes certain key terms for granted (e.g. 'we', 'self', 'free agent'), perhaps realising that their definition may undermine his rambling hypotheses.
* At times, Pink seems to assume that prior causation must mean that things are mapped out for the individual since before birth, rather than acknowledging the chaos and flux which is at play in causal relationships. This in itself is an example of the reductionism he readily criticizes elsewhere.
* Pink argues against the Hobbesian view that action is driven by prior desires with the awful counter-example of 'if I am out walking, and decide to take a break on a bench, then decide to get up and continue my walk, that decision is not driven by prior desires'. His notion of temporality is skewed here, for 'man wishes to get up and continue walk, gets up, continues walk' is sufficient to undermine his argument. Immediately prior is still prior.
* In trying to undermine the role of desires in action, he replaces this term with `motivation'. However, he fails to define `motivation' and fails to show how it is any different or any more amenable to freedom than `desire'.
* Et cetera ad nauseum...

All in all, Pink has produced something that is an embarassment to philosophy. He shouldn't be teaching at a university, let alone publishing books. I suggest he goes back to school to learn the very basics of philosophy. Whether you come from the determinist, compatibilist or libertarian camp, this book has only one thing to offer: an example of how not to argue a case for the freedom of the will.
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on 5 May 2006
I have read many of the books in the (generally excellent) Very Short Introduction range, and this is the first that has prompted me to write a review of any kind. Unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons...

For an introduction, I think this is more likely to turn people away from what is in my experience a wonderfully thought provoking subject. The author briefly introduces the key concepts, but then blends in their more detailed explanations with his own personal bias and synthesis; this distorts the meaning of terms, and muddies the debate. If you couple this with his tortured style of prose it becomes in some places both boring and unreadable.

I would recommend anyone interested in the subject to try and find a good anthology of classic texts, to better understand the positions of Hobbes, Hume, Kant and others, which are not as intimidating to the intelligent general reader as many would suppose.
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on 2 September 2009
Pink's book does act as an short and compelling introduction... the question is as to what it introduces.

After reading this book, I undoubtedly understand the Scholastic medieval approach to the theological problem of Free Will better; how Free Will could be compatible with an omniscient God who presumably knew what would happen before you freely decided it. I also understand Hobbes' natural view of free will better. It also cleared up some issues of definition, such as the distinction between 'free' and 'voluntary'.

However, I do not know more about the current thinking on the Free Will debate. Instead, Pink defends his position, based on common sense.
This book is not titled "Pink's Defence of Libertarian Free Will". While I do not mind hearing what the author has to say, I would like him to step beyond his own argument. Also, I do not need to learn so much of an argument based on common sense, as one aspect of its common-ness is that I know about it already.
This book's conclusion struck me as nothing more than "Free Will can't be disproven. Also it is commonly believed in. Our world is based on it. Therefore it is better to believe in it than it is to believe in determinism." Yet this argument works as well, if you consider the massive impact of reductionist natural sciences on our world, if you say the same thing of determinism.

I felt it worthwhile to read this book, but it is only an introduction to a small segment of the Free Will problem. Other Philosophical titles in this series, most especially Philosophy of Science by Okasha, have an enormous breadth in comparison, yet seem to manage equal depth of explanation.
Overall, I can't help but feel that this book should have been written by somebody else with less of a desire to push their own view. Perhaps a chapter on or by Pink to explain his views, which are no doubt important as going against the majority determinist consensus in Analytic Philosophy, but certainly going above and beyond his own contribution.
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on 6 June 2015
Used this to get up to speed on free will. It is a very good summary of the argument in a nice and accessible style.
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on 11 March 2015
great book my son said - his is the philosophy major!
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on 25 May 2009
Unfortunately, I can only agree with previous commentators in that this is a rather poor example of the otherwise usually excellent VSI series.

Pink tries to give an introduction to the problem of free will, which he clearly sees as a long series of failures. His own libertarian solution, which is that free will obviously exist and is incompatible with the usual deterministic view of the world prevalent in analytic philosophy makes him an odditity within the analytic tradition (though it should be said that he isn't entirely alone).

The interesting thing about the free will discussion seems to me that the whole tradition is based on some muddled and confused thinking right from the start. It's almost like the "free will problem" is some cognitive virus, terribly effective in afflicting the minds of analytic philosophers, who are probably all entranced by the very simple paradoxical nature of the term (free - implies no control, will implies control, isn't that a bit like round square, or like a barber who shaves every man in the village apart from himself, how exciting) and its alleged importance for human interaction - blame, responsibility, meaning of life, seem all ready to go down the drain if we would let go of free will. Or would they? (Isn't it cute that philosophers keep thinking the world changes depending on what they decide is true, like we suddenly lose our freedom and turn into mindless robots if someone proves it to be non-existent.)

I think Pink could have had some great fun with the conceptual ineptness of the great minds who couldn't help passing final judgment on the possibility or impossibility of free will, with ever so confused arguments. Like: free will, requires acting from reason, but if the reason determines the action, than it can't be free. Aehm?! Didn't you just say that reason is what makes it free? Why change the game mid argument? What kind of free are we actually talking about here? Sadly, it is never specified, none of the terms are well defined, which is how all this confusion works. But Pink persistently ignores all the obvious flaws and keeps trying to deal with the arguments on their own terms.

It sadly seems he dreaded the wrath of the philosophical establishment, which still holds those arguments dear and has a tendency to frown upon those peculiar humans who indulge in the illusion of having a free will. And by staying within the limits of the traditional arguments, Pink ends up making his own position look pretty shakey. It also means that the book is boring and only serves as an example of how confused this problem is, rather than providing analysis of what causes the confusion or even a proper introduction. A missed opportunity.
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on 17 March 2010
Don't bother reading.

Pink approaches the topic of free will with about as much knowledge as anyone picking up this book would have on the subject. Incredibly repetitive and mainly just a game of playing with (ill-defined) semantics to make his own biased point.

If you want to read about any of the real philosophy done on the topic that might actually be of use to you - such as the philosophers Frankfurt, Strawson, Fischer, van Inwagen, Wolf, Dennett etc., or any information regarding quantum physics, evolutionary psychology or neuroscience - there is no point looking here. Pink doesn't get much further than Hobbes and sharks (which he sadly thinks don't make what he calls decisions, whereas we do - thus problem solved)

Kane's book is a much better alternative, as is the SEP.
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on 14 April 2014
Earlier reviewers here have made all the substantial points. This book doesn't really function as an introductory text. It is dryly written and extremely repetitive, which makes it unnecessarily difficult to read, given the relatively straightforward nature of the arguments advanced. If anything, the author's style, if taken by the reader to be typical of philosophical prose, is likely to put the reader off investigating these matters further.

The 'Short Introduction' books are generally excellent, but this is one to avoid.
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