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Paperback | $22.95 Trade | £18.95 | 248 pp. | 6 x 9 in | August 2015 | ISBN: 9780262527798
eBook | $16.95 Trade | August 2015 | ISBN: 9780262332033
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Elbow Room, New Edition

The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting


In this landmark 1984 work on free will, Daniel Dennett makes a case for compatibilism. His aim, as he writes in the preface to this new edition, was a cleanup job, “saving everything that mattered about the everyday concept of free will, while jettisoning the impediments.” In Elbow Room, Dennett argues that the varieties of free will worth wanting—those that underwrite moral and artistic responsibility—are not threatened by advances in science but distinguished, explained, and justified in detail.

Dennett tackles the question of free will in a highly original and witty manner, drawing on the theories and concepts of fields that range from physics and evolutionary biology to engineering, automata theory, and artificial intelligence. He shows how the classical formulations of the problem in philosophy depend on misuses of imagination, and he disentangles the philosophical problems of real interest from the “family of anxieties” in which they are often enmeshed—imaginary agents and bogeymen, including the Peremptory Puppeteer, the Nefarious Neurosurgeon, and the Cosmic Child Whose Dolls We Are. Putting sociobiology in its rightful place, he concludes that we can have free will and science too. He explores reason, control and self-control, the meaning of “can” and “could have done otherwise,” responsibility and punishment, and why we would want free will in the first place. A fresh reading of Dennett’s book shows how much it can still contribute to current discussions of free will.

This edition includes as its afterword Dennett’s 2012 Erasmus Prize essay.

About the Author

Daniel C. Dennett is University Professor Codirector of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University. He is the author of Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds; Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness; Elbow Room: The Varieties of Free Will Worth Wanting; Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness (all published by the MIT Press), From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Mind, and other books.


“A spirited and engaging defense of a compatibilist view of free will that has had a significant influence on debates about the topic since its publication thirty years ago. Dennett’s characteristically imaginative examples and arguments in this book continue to engage those who agree with his compatibilist position, and to challenge those of us who do not.”
Robert Kane, University Distinguished Professor of Philosophy Emeritus and Professor of Law, The University of Texas at Austin
“True classics are dazzling when they are written and should be dazzling forever. Daniel Dennett’s Elbow Room makes the cut as he captures what a thorough analysis of the problem of free will looks like. Bravo!”
Michael S. Gazzaniga, Professor of Psychology and Director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, University of California, Santa Barbara
Elbow Room remains one of the most impressive and engaging defenses of compatibilism about free will and science—in Dennett’s conception, the position that our scientific knowledge does not conflict with the kinds of free will worth wanting. In view of the tendency of recent scientific challenges to free will to dismiss compatibilism, this book is even more timely now than when it first appeared.”
Derk Pereboom, Susan Linn Sage Professor of Philosophy, Cornell University