• Another review for my Free Will? book

    As most of you probably already know, my first book was Free Will? An into whether we have free will or whether I was always going to write this book. This has received overwhelmingly good reviews (the only negative one on Amazon.com is from a mental Catholic priest who hadn’t read it and who has been banned from here, as well as negatively reviewing all of my books.

    Anywho, I just thought I’d share the last couple of reviews for Free Will?

    This one is from Book Lover:

    This is a really good book written for intelligent laymen and not philosophers. As such it is incredibly effective and well done. The author brings in a wide range of evidence against free will and discusses the three main philosophical ideas related to free will – libertarianism, compatablism, and determinism and the arguments for and against them.

    I really think the 50 pages of text on biblical prophecy and theological determinism was a little much. Obviously it is tangentially related to the topic but he spent way too much time on it and I got tired of it. The book would have been better with a little less of this, however it is so good otherwise I still give it 5 stars.

    Highly recommended.

    And this from dcleve:

    Free Will – an investigation into whether I was always going to write this book, by Jonathan Pearce, was a thoroughly enjoyable intellectual amble. Pearce is not a professional or academic philosopher, and he does most of his philosophizing at the local pub with a group of likeminded “tippling philosophers”, and brings this style to the book. He is also well read as to what academic philosophers are thinking. This combination, a well informed writer, who writes in a conversational “pub” style without academic jargon, makes for a particularly accessible and non-dogmatic read.

    While the book is organized into sections and chapters, their content repeats somewhat, and subjects and themes cross between chapters and sections freely. I did not find the book to have any linear or cumulative structure to it, though it seemed to break down into three main portions. The first portion of the book introduces the reader to the problem – that Free Will seems to be incompatible with either causation or randomness, and pretty much everything seems to be either caused or random, so there is no obvious method that Free Will could work. Pearce introduces the Libertarian, Compatabilist, and Determinist POVs as ways to resolve this conflict, and expresses his views that Libertarianism is incoherent, Compatabilism is just sugar-coated Determinism, and that he is a happy Determinist. He also introduces his theme of second-guessing the judicial system, in particular its retributive and judgmental aspects.

    The middle portion of the book elaborates on these three POVs. While it does not add much to understanding of Libertarianism or Compatabilism, this portions discussion on Determinism was particularly interesting. Here, Pearce recounts psychological, neurological, upbringing, genetic, and philosophical studies on the strength of influences on our behavior. These studies provide very interesting insights into humanity, and Pearce does a good job compiling info from a variety of sources. The scope and magnitude of the influences he recounts he considers to be strong evidence for determinism, and he repeats this claim several times in the conclusion.

    This claim is the major reasoning shortfall I found in the work. Pearce himself admits that almost nobody holds by pure Libertarianism. Libertarians hold by influences and predilections, and acts of will to overcome these influences. His examples all show INFLUENCE. They only refute pure Libertarianism, not influenced Libertarianism. Therefore, since they are not critical test cases between Determinism and Influenced Libertarianism, they are not evidence for Determinism.

    The last section of the book focused primarily on religions, and how they deal with Free Will and Determinism. He points out that a God who knows the future, and who is outside of time, is incompatible with Free Will. This is fairly explicitly accepted in Islam, but most Christian theologians have come up with sugar-coated Compatabilist techniques to argue that we sort of have free will, even though everything is already determined. He takes many tangents here to critique the limited freedom involved in stringent religious codes, with repeated interventions by God, etc. He wanders even further afield with moral critiques of Old Testament laws, and the actions of Yahweh. The point seems to be that most people who reject determinism do so because of the religious necessity of Free Will, and he is trying to refute those claims by showing the simultaneous religious necessity for determinism, and if that fails, demonstrate that religious views are flawed for other reasons. These logic and moral critiques are for the most part valid. However, the attacks on religion in this portion of the book fit only tangentially into the purpose of the book, and look like something he should have mostly excised, and turned into a separate book critiquing religions.

    One hole he failed to plug is that some theologians have taken a route out of his determinist minefield, by holding that God is INSIDE time, and experiences change. He mostly brushes over this point, but does launch a side attack to try to refute it, by attacking time. He asserts time is like a dimension (and calims this is how most physicists think of it today), and therefore physics is already holding that the future already exists (is determined). However, as the multidimensional String Theory and M-theory universes have X dimensions AND TIME (no more than one time field), not X dimensions ONE OR MORE OF WHICH ARE TIME (time and dimension fields are fundamentally the same) – it is clear that time really isn’t a dimension. While it may be possible that most physicists hold this opinion, its failure in practice trumps his citation of expert support.

    A final theme he returns to with greatest focus in the last portion is criminal justice. He holds that the “determining” influences on all our lives are full moral exculpation for whatever one may have done wrong (or right). Which leads him to an argument our criminal justice system should be integrated into a social system which should be preventative (starting with infancy, and the proper conditions/influences/training etc one needs to be a well balanced good citizen), and once one commits a crime, society’s sole goal should be rehabilitation – as a moral necessity. He considers uneven wealth distribution (not just inheritance, but also income based on productivity) to be morally wrong, the result of luck in a random lottery for genes and upbringing.

    This rationalization of his political agenda through an argument for determinism is the second major reasoning weakness I found in the book. Determinism does not justify his utopian scientific socialist nanny statism. Most people find the loss of free will removes any value to life of the universe; hence there is no remaining “moral” reference left to justify any kind of reform of society, or even of the criminal justice system. The consistent historical consequence of societal belief in determinism is to reinforce whatever social system is in place in that society. Pearce seems to be passionate to convince people of the reality of determinism, in the expectation that it will lead them to embrace his utopian vision. That his enthusiasm for convincing the rest of us we are deluded about Free Will would almost certainly lead to the opposite effect than he intends is an interesting twist to the issue of who, exactly is deluded here.

    Some interesting points of discussion in both reviews, for sure!

    Category: BooksFree Will and Determinism


    Article by: Jonathan MS Pearce