The Problem of Free Will: A Contemporary Introduction

The Problem of Free Will: A Contemporary Introduction

The Problem of Free Will: A Contemporary Introduction

The Problem of Free Will: A Contemporary Introduction


Do we really have freedom to act, or are we slaves to our genes, environment or culture? Regular TPM columnist Mathew Iredale gets to grips with one of the most intractable issues in philosophy: the problem of free will. Iredale explores what it is about the free will problem that makes it so hard to resolve and argues that the only acceptable solution to the free will problem must be one that is consistent with what science tells us about the world. It is here, maintains Iredale, that too many works on free will, introductory or otherwise, fall down, by focusing only on how free will relates to determinism. Iredale shows that there are clear areas of scientific research which are directly and significantly relevant to free will in a way that does not involve determinism. Although these areas of scientific research do not allow us to solve the problem, they do allow us to separate the more plausible ideas concerning free will from the less plausible.


All theory is against the freedom of the will; all experience for it.

Dr Samuel Johnson

What is it about free will that makes it such a difficult problem? One obvious answer is its complexity. Although philosophers refer to the problem of free will, it is in fact made up of a number of interrelated problems: Do we have free will? Why do we think that we have free will? What affects or limits our free will? Do such affecting or limiting factors apply equally to everyone? How is free will related to moral responsibility? Is free will compatible with determinism (the thesis that there is only one physically possible future or only one physically possible outcome following a series of events)? This last question raises what is for many philosophers the core problem of free will. Over the centuries the determining agent has varied (fate, God, the laws of nature or logic, our heredity and environment, and social conditioning, to name the most obvious contenders), but the overall fear has remained the same: are we determined to make the decisions that we make, and if we are, in what meaningful or valuable sense, if any, are our decisions free?

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It has been almost exactly nine years since the 21st Annual Advertising and Consumer Psychology Conference that launched the first edition of this book. As the chapters in this second edition attest, though a lot has changed in that short amount of time, a lot has stayed the same. One thing that has changed is the entertainment media landscape and the role of promotion practices within the different media vehicles. Product placement seems to be even more ubiquitous and also more blatant. Attitudes toward placement seem to be less negative and more tolerant of the practice. New entertainment vehicles are being developed whose sole purpose seems to be to serve as placement and sponsorship vehicles, a trend we first noted several years ago (Lowrey, Shrum, & McCarty, 2005). Another thing that has changed is the types of entertainment media being investigated. The first edition was almost exclusively devoted to television entertainment. In this edition, we also look at effects in the context of video and other digital games.

What has not changed, however, is the nature of the effects. Regardless of the medium or the message, the effects of entertainment media content on viewers—both intended and unintended—are remarkably consistent. The preceding nine years simply provided the opportunity to expand the evidence and narrow down the underlying processes in a more comprehensive manner. Thus, as with the previous volume, this edition explores how persuasion works in entertainment media contexts, and in doing so expands the notion of what constitutes persuasion, hopefully resulting in a more knowledgeable consumer and a better-informed public.


As part of the Society for Consumer Psychology’s Advertising and Consumer Psychology Book Series, I want to thank SCP for all of their support for this as well as the prior edition. In particular, I would like to thank Steve Posavac, past SCP president, for urging me to consider doing a follow-up to the first book. I would also like to thank Anne Duffy of Taylor & Francis, who has worked closely with me on this book and who . . .

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