Summary and Info
Let me warn the reader, Robert Kane's Book is "A CONTEMPORARY Introduction to Free Will", not an Introduction to free will.The Book focuses mostly on contemporary debates whose origin usually does not go back beyond the last quarter of the twentieth century. It is the reason that Kane's book is so relevant. It sums up for a wider public the collection of essays published by various authors in his "Oxford Handbook of Free Will". Kane is considered as one of the leading contemporary philosophers on free will and he has developed his own theory. Kane considers alternative possibilities as a necessary but insufficient condition of free will which requires "ultimate responsibility", i-e a moral or rational control of the subject on his action. A free act is an act we can claim responsibility for and there must be sufficient reasons for acting the way we act. All chapter 12 is devoted to this question. Although Kane describes himself as a libertarian, his position often come close to compatibilism and when reading the first chapters of the book I found that the general tone of the book is leading more toward compatibilism than libertarianism. The contemporary discussion on Free Will is so complex that usually the public never hear about that important debate. Nevertheless Robert Kane has made a wonderful job, guiding us through all the arguments and counter arguments. It gives the impression of watching a chess contest by world class players. Each move seems to be decisive until comes the counter move. In another essay Kane has called free will a "labyrinth" and the general impression given by the book is that the debate will remain inconclusive. It is not to surprise me. McGinn in is book "Problems in Philosophy" has demonstrated that the problem of free will, like the problem of consciousness, will never be solved because of our cognitive limitations. It does not mean that the debate is not important. Even if the problem does not have a rational solution, no one can be a serious thinker without embracing one of the three positions between libertarianism, determinism and compatibilism because adopting one these positions determines the type of moral theory one might adopt. I do not give five stars to the book because of two weaknesses. The first weakness is the lack of proper definition of determinism. Kane gives a very narrow definition of determinism that makes determinism almost synonymous with necessity. In fact he is mostly referring to singular determinism, the determinism of local events that can be inevitable or necessary, not of general determinism that see determinism as the general structure of the universe. For him determinism is "a kind of necessity, but it is a conditional necessity". This is very different from general determinism which is the belief that any event the world, including human behaviour, is the result of an unbroken causal chain. By choosing this narrow approach Kane brush away all the problem of determinism in science. The chapter on "Free Will and the Modern Science" is extremely weak, probably because Kane is not personally interested in this kind of debate. The second weakness is a consequence of the first one. Although the book claims to be an introduction to the contemporary debate on fee will, it is far from covering all the spectrum of recent theories. Kane does not present a convincing description of the naturalist and physicalist view on free will that present free will as "a post hoc rationalization, a delusion" (Ramachandran). Once again it is not that Kane is ignorant of the subject. Occasionally we find a few references to Smilansky's Free Will and Illusion, and Double's The Non-Reality of Free Will. But I did not find any reference to Wegner important book "The Illusion of Conscious Will" which was published three years before Kane's Introduction.Being myself more a compatibilist than a libertarian I do not think that Kane has made a good job in presenting a neutral description of determinism of the kind you expect to find in an introductory book for students and the general public and by ignoring some of his adversaries main objections he has weakened his own defence of libertarianism. However, this sort of book being so rare I consider that its reading is mandatory for any one interested in the question of free will.