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The Evolution Of Free Will

The Evolution Of Free WillIn a new book, renowned Tufts philosopher Daniel Dennett explores the possibility of free will in the Darwinian era. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [02.28.03] Do human beings have free will? This question has been debated since the very earliest days of philosophy. But according to Tufts professor Daniel Dennett, modern science can impact our views on this philosophical discussion. In a new book, Dennett argues that free will does indeed exist - by virtue of the evolution of the human mind.

"Dennett is trying to update David Hume in the light of Darwin's theory of evolution," reported Reason magazine. "In doing so, he provides us with fascinating new ways to think about the meaning of choice, the value of morality, and how the evolution of the human brain and its capabilities has made us more free."

Published by Viking Press, Dennett's new book Freedom Evolves presents the Tufts professor's unique - and to some, controversial - view.

"Dennett, a cognitive scientist and one of the most famous philosophers in the world, is a consummate feather ruffler," reported London's The Times. "Now Dennett, 60, whose mission to reconcile the scientific and philosophical pictures of the universe as reflected in his post as professor at Tufts University, is set to antagonize his intellectual enemies by insisting that being composed of mere genes and cells does not contradict the idea that we have free will."

Unlike many other philosophers - who argue that free will must lack any cause - Dennett says that free will has evolved biologically alongside human reasoning.

"Free will is like the air we breathe, and it is present almost everywhere we want to go, but it is not only eternal, it evolved, and is still evolving," Dennett - whose other books include Consciousness Explained (1991) and Darwin's Dangerous Idea (1995) - writes in Freedom Evolves.

Dennett says that some are skeptical of his theory of an evolved free will because they fear it suggests that there is no free will at all and responsibility, morals and ethics are thrown out the window - which the Tufts philosopher says couldn't be farther from the truth.

"People think that if their choices are caused, then they are inevitable," Dennett - who is director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts - told The Times. "That's just wrong. People think that's not real freedom, but of course it is."

The Tufts professor says that, despite the controversy it has caused, his book plays an important role in furthering the philosophical discussion of free will.

"Why, in the face of this heated resistance, do I persist in attempting to present my view?" writes Dennett. "It's called growing up, and I think we are ready to grow up...the truth really will set you free."


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