May 4, 2021
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A crystal-clear, scientifically rigorous argument for the existence of free will, challenging what many scientists and scientifically minded philosophers believe.
Philosophers have argued about the nature and the very existence of free will for centuries. Today, many scientists and scientifically minded commentators are skeptical that it exists, especially when it is understood to require the ability to choose between alternative possibilities. If the laws of physics govern everything that happens, they argue, then how can our choices be free? Believers in free will must be misled by habit, sentiment, or religious doctrine. Why Free Will Is Real defies scientific orthodoxy and presents a bold new defense of free will in the same naturalistic terms that are usually deployed against it.
Unlike those who defend free will by giving up the idea that it requires alternative possibilities to choose from, Christian List retains this idea as central, resisting the tendency to defend free will by watering it down. He concedes that free will and its prerequisites—intentional agency, alternative possibilities, and causal control over our actions—cannot be found among the fundamental physical features of the natural world. But, he argues, that’s not where we should be looking. Free will is a “higher-level” phenomenon found at the level of psychology. It is like other phenomena that emerge from physical processes but are autonomous from them and not best understood in fundamental physical terms—like an ecosystem or the economy. When we discover it in its proper context, acknowledging that free will is real is not just scientifically respectable; it is indispensable for explaining our world.
“Accessible, clear and convincing… List’s carefully crafted argument may help many of us sleep more soundly, being further assured that we can choose how to live our own lives.”—Ellie Lasater-Guttman, LSE Review of Books
“Well argued and admirably sets out the challenges to free will that, when coupled with its clarity, make it an excellent gateway into the contemporary free will debate.”—Logan B. Weir, Review of Metaphysics
“List argues that free will is not explained away through science by looking at the activity in our brain… A wonderful defense of free will accessibly written for readers new to the topic.”—Library Journal
“In Why Free Will Is Real, List does as advertised, advancing a novel, intriguing view of free will and making a thoughtful case for the thesis that free will, as he conceives of it, is real. This book is a pleasure to read.”—Alfred Mele, Florida State University
“An original and challenging new contribution to contemporary debates about free will. After making a compelling case for the irreducibility of different explanatory levels of reality, Christian List argues that free will requires indeterminism at the psychological level of explanation, but not at the physical level, where it is compatible with determinism. His arguments in support of these claims address a host of potential objections and include insightful appeals to new developments in the logic of agency and branching time, among other novel arguments.”—Robert H. Kane, The University of Texas at Austin
“Many philosophers have suggested that we may be causally determined at the neurophysiological level, but not at the psychological. List is the first to work out a detailed proposal of how this might work, and of how it can underpin an account of free will. Developing ideas from theories of causation and of counterfactuals, it provides an incisive and accessible introduction to contemporary thinking about how we might be free in a causally-determined world.”—Richard Holton, University of Cambridge
Want help Staying Sane? Interested in unlocking the potential of your brain? Want to know why we find some people more attractive and seductive than others, and how to become irresistible yourself? Need to attain goals like losing weight or passing exams? Desire less stress in your life? Dr Raj Persaud FRCPsych, a Consultant Psychiatrist based in London, UK, talks to leaders in the fields of mental health, as well as those suffering from psychological problems, in order to get to the cutting edge of our current understanding of ourselves, through our brains and our minds. The podcast series interviews world experts in fields as diverse as Economics, Neuroscience, Psychotherapy and Psychology to deliver the essential cutting edge information you need to better understand yourself and the world around you.