HOW FREE ARE YOU? by Ted Honderich


The Determinism Problem
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Honderich (Philosophy/University College, London) ponders an age-old question--are we free agents or pawns of unknown forces?--and winds up embracing determinism.

The author arrives at this conclusion through a series of closely argued deductions and thought experiments (readers unfamiliar with the terms of standard philosophical debate will welcome the excellent glossary at the end). His basic point is that all our actions are effects resulting from earlier causes; there is, then, no room for free will. Evidence for this lies, he believes, in a careful study of human neurology. He rejects epiphenomenalism, the theory that the mind is a byproduct of brain activity; rather, he sees actions as caused by "psychoneural'' events that involve the combined effort of mind and brain. Nonetheless, Honderich argues that there is in fact no "self'' within us that originates actions. His weakest moment comes when confronting the most popular recent challenge to determinism, quantum theory, which insists on the uncertainty of events within the subatomic world; here, his response is that maybe subatomic events don't have much to do with our level of reality, and, in any case, a new physics may come along that is based on determinism. Extrapolating his position into social spheres, he points out that in a determinist world there is no room for moral blame, and therefore punishment for the sake of punishment should be abolished; also, he suggests, those who deny free will may choose to move to the political left, which emphasizes social remedies over individual responsibility.

As Honderich would have it, whether you read his book is not a matter of choice. Nonetheless, recommended for those with well- muscled brains.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-212328-9
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1993


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