Freedom within Reason

Freedom within Reason

Freedom within Reason

Freedom within Reason

Synopsis

Philosophers typically see the issue of free will and determinism in terms of a debate between two standard positions. Incompatibilism holds that freedom and responsibility require causal and metaphysical independence from the impersonal forces of nature. According to compatibilism, people are free and responsible as long as their actions are governed by their desires. In Freedom Within Reason, Susan Wolf charts a path between these traditional positions: We are not free and responsible, she argues, for actions that are governed by desires that we cannot help having. But the wish to form our own desires from nothing is both futile and arbitrary. Some of the forces beyond our control are friends to freedom rather than enemies of it: they endow us with faculties of reason, perception, and imagination, and provide us with the data by which we come to see and appreciate the world for what it is. The independence we want, Wolf argues, is not independence from the world, but independence from forces that prevent or preclude us from choosing how to live in light of a sufficient appreciation of the world. The freedom we want is a freedom within reason and the world.

Excerpt

Free will is arguably the most difficult problem in philosophy. Given the centuries of thought, even of deep and brilliant thought, that have been devoted to this problem, it would not be unreasonable to assume that only fools rush in, at this point, thinking they have something to say about it. Yet I do think I have something to say about it. Readers will undoubtedly draw their own conclusions.

Whether or not free will is one of the most difficult problems, it is certainly one of the most gripping. Reflections on religion, psychology, physics, education, and on the issue of crime and punishment all lead to the problems of free will and responsibility, and one has only to read Dostoevsky to get a sense of the urgency with which these problems may be felt. These problems are neither invented by nor restricted to academic philosphers. To the contrary, they testify to a philosophical urge in human nature. This book is addressed to all those whose philosophical urge expresses itself in a concern with free will.

This book is not the most comprehensive presentation and defense of the views within it that could be written. I submit the book not just with the abstract knowledge that it contains mistakes (what book doesn't?) but with the concrete and painful awareness of ways it might be revised that would perhaps present and defend my ideas more successfully. But to quote Mick Jagger, "I have my freedom, but I don't have much time." Obviously, I must accept full responsibility for whatever errors and flaws this book contains.

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