Difficult but nonetheless stimulating look into the roots of freedom and responsibility.


National Book Award–winner Dennett (Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, 1995, etc.) seeks to account for free will in a world determined by inflexible scientific laws. His answer lies in evolution.

The author embraces a materialist position. The advance of science has made obsolete the notion of an immaterial soul, he notes, but if the physical universe is all, why do we believe ourselves to be free agents with independent wills? The answer, for Dennett (Center for Cognitive Studies/Tufts Univ.), lies in the gradual development from simpler to more complex life forms. A primordial cell has little to do beyond absorbing nourishment and avoiding being absorbed in turn by its larger neighbors. Yet such completely determined phenomena as the computer game Life, in which two-dimensional shapes follow rigid rules, can give rise to startling complexity, even the illusion of conscious action. Complex living creatures, such as the proverbial free bird, have more options. But moral choice remains the crux of the matter. Dennett takes as a test case Martin Luther's dictum “Here I stand; I can do no other.” In what sense was Luther incapable of acting differently? Certainly not in the same way as a primitive organism with only one response to a given stimulus; if that were so, it would display neither virtue nor courage to take such a stand. The “Prisoner's Dilemma” of game theory seems to prove that betrayal is the most rational choice: how, then, has cooperation arisen in the real world? Much of the answer lies in social evolution. Language allows communities to perpetuate their beliefs and customs, enabling the like-minded to protect themselves against predatory outsiders. Dennett spends much of the text debating his professional rivals, but he is always ready to offer real-world examples of his points and rarely ducks tough questions.

Difficult but nonetheless stimulating look into the roots of freedom and responsibility.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2003

ISBN: 0-670-03186-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2002

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The name of C.S. Lewis will no doubt attract many readers to this volume, for he has won a splendid reputation by his brilliant writing. These sermons, however, are so abstruse, so involved and so dull that few of those who pick up the volume will finish it. There is none of the satire of the Screw Tape Letters, none of the practicality of some of his later radio addresses, none of the directness of some of his earlier theological books.

Pub Date: June 15, 1949

ISBN: 0060653205

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1949

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Internationally renowned because of his earlier books, among them tape Letters, Surprised by Joy, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis making religion provoking, memorable and delightful is still more latest Reflections on the Psalms. Though he protests that he writes learned about things in which he is unlearned himself, the reader is likely thank God for his wise ignorance. Here especially he throws a clear lightly or not, on many of the difficult psalms, such as those which abound with and cursing, and a self-centeredness which seems to assume' that God must be side of the psalmist. These things, which make some psalm singers pre not there, have a right and proper place, as Mr. Lewis shows us. They of Psalms more precious still. Many readers owe it to themselves to read flections if only to learn this hard but simple lesson. Urge everyone to book.

Pub Date: June 15, 1958

ISBN: 015676248X

Page Count: 166

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1958

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