The book's title speaks for itself: for it is a defense of free will, and its subtitle adds a useful qualification: Baggini looks for a possibility and not necessity of free will, this is for conditions under which free will is thinkable and acceptable. The book is clearly structured and clearly written. Arguments are both intelligible for amateurs and interesting for specialists. The book is divided into five parts in which freedom is presented threatened, lost, regained, diminished, and earned. This corresponds to five stages of approach to free will in western philosophy. Baggini's aim is to respond to an increasing number of works, supported more and more by research in neurology, which deny the existence of free will altogether. He challenges it by "thinking more carefully about what it truly means to be free" (3). From the outset he is optimistic since there are "the tools we need to rehabilitate a reformed free will" (5). At the same time Baggini is sceptical about relying on thought experiments, often used to deny free will, because there are sufficient real-world examples at hand to deal with the issue. What they denied is free will of a special kind, not necessarily identical with what it can actually be. Accordingly, arguments of this kind miss the point.
Baggini starts by discussing Laplace's famous answer and by showing that predictability and/or omniscience does not threaten free will. To know something as fixed in the future is not tantamount to fixing it in the future. Yet, determinism relies on the thesis that all that happens must happen because the world is nothing but a machine (while the human brain is, in turn, "just a complicated biological machine", 12). In fact, however, what poses a real problem for the idea of free will is physical materialism. If all human actions are just results of neurons firing, there is no longer anything like free will. If everything in a human being is a result of his brain chemistry, any act of thought, desire or emotion is nothing more than epiphenomenon of neural processes which occur according to physical laws and not according to a decision of a person who houses these processes. Baggini discusses several way of circumventing physical materialism (e.g. the 'I of the gaps') and he observes, rightly and convincingly in my view, that such attempts makes free will rather magical or inconsistent []. Both materialists and their critics are guilty of "mereological fallacy", since they replace the whole of a human person with the sum of her parts whereas, in fact, there is neither a compartment in the human body or brain nor a separate faculty that is responsible for thinking, feeling and willing. Those who look for anything specific to free will find therefore nothing. Yet to take this failure as a patent proof of non-existence of free will is an exaggeration. The only lesson to be learnt is that free will is to be ascribed to or to be searched for in the whole person.
The second part is about neuroscience and genetics. As for neuroscience the early 1980s experiments showed that decisions are made before they are conscious. Baggini is not worried about this fact for he recognizes that there are cases in which unconscious decision precedes a conscious one. But since they represent the majority or the minority of all but not all of them they do not constitute any evidence against the possibility of free decision in other cases, be they frequent, rare or extremely rare. According to Baggini, the fact that we don't know what exactly is the relation between brain and mind shouldn't result in our use of inadequate and misleading description of this relation as it often happens. Brain processes are what sustains human life and consciousness rather than that what by itself alone can explain them. Experiments denying the role of thought on action are of peculiar character and are limited to specific kinds of actions. As such they say nothing about prejudices or beliefs to which suggestion and placebo could be added. Baggini touches then on panpsychist way of interpretation and, next, on the idea of different levels of explanation []. For instance, system, especially a complex one, is not reducible to its elements. And the same is valid for its properties which are not the sum of the properties of its elements. There is also an important distinction made between reasons and causes: while determinism pertains to the latter it is silent about the former (think about Socrates in prison as portrayed in Plato's Phaedo and making a criticism of Anaxagoras). But reasons are neither events nor material things and this is why materialism has difficulties in accounting for them. After that Baggini makes a point about unconsciousness of human actions. It would be surprising and time-consuming if any action, say the way you employ your fingers to take this or that object, were be conscious. However, that many or the majority of human actions are unconscious doesn't mean that all are unconscious (he calls this "the quantitative fallacy", (47)). Suffice it to find a few that are conscious to argue for free will. Hence the assumption of free will doesn't require that all actions be consciously deliberated. The last section of the chapter is about the possibility of doing otherwise than one has done (or choosing other than what is has been chosen). This is how many understand freedom. Baggini doesn't say that one is free to do anything one wishes. Rather what a person does is a product of her character, situation, and disposition. This is, I think, a view that can be called a psychological determinism. The example Baggini gives (a decision concerning a proposal of marriage) confirms it, since the result is determined by preferences and character, of which some are certainly unconscious (Freud would agree with it). The chapter is concluded by a methodological remark stating that the tools deployed predetermine our understanding of human actions: "If you look for the neural causes of action, then the only causes of action you'll find are neural ones, and it is a natural though illogical leap to conclude that therefore these are the only causes of action." (57)
When it comes to genetics Baggini shows by referring to a detailed example of twins (Ann and Judy) that who they are is only partly determined by their identical genes. Although being similar in many respects, they are two very different persons in important ways (see 70). This is so, because, Baggini claims, "who we are appears to be a product of both nature and nurture, in whatever proportion they contribute, and nothing else" (71). The way Baggini dismisses genetics as a threat to free will is persuasive, yet I am not sure if he is right in limiting the human condition to nature and nurture: one might ask, for instance, what does the proportion of nature and nurture depend on. Is it a result of something else, or of either, of both? Baggini doesn't address this question []. When next he claims that "who we are comes first and what we do follows" he is correct (73), yet it may be added that what we do shapes, in turn, who we are. Consequently the relation is valid in two directions. Speaking about things like "statistical illiteracy" (64), "potential reporting bias" (65) or focusing on simplification when, for example, responsibility without qualification is understood silently as ultimate responsibility (see 77) Baggini nicely demonstrates the flaws often pervading common and scientific arguments. If they are avoided and the necessary qualifications are spelled out, it is manifest that what science, both neuroscience and genetics, destroys is "only a straw-man version of free will, a naive conception" (83) of it.
In the third part the artistic and political freedoms are treated. What Baggini says about art and creativity comes mostly from what he learnt by interviewing Grayson Perry. Thus one can see how differently, if at all, artists think about free will. For instance, absence of conscious control in the process of creation not only does not undermine freedom: in fact its very presence could be counterproductive. What hinders artistic freedom is external constraint of which the biggest is time (this may make artists' view existentialist to some extent). But, again, Baggini stresses the context in which the artist lives and which animates what he creates. Creativity is an interesting domain to investigate the limits of human freedom, especially in how the artist goes beyond nature-and-nurture (or culture). But in order to realize it fully one should, I believe, use names of those who really developed culture in such a way as going far beyond what they found in their genes and environment. In the chapter about the dissident Baggini discusses a too rigid, in his view, distinction between political freedom and free will. In fact, his view, supported by examples he provides is that there is no sharp divide. But one may wonder if this is true. At least for some Stoics and existentialists you can be deprived of external freedom but not of internal one. This is, as it seems to me, confirmed by the story of Paul Rusesabagina of being prisoner of himself (see 110). On the other hand, if you say that "[w]hen your passport is taken, something of you is taken too" (113), this is external freedom that is at stake.
The next part is about psychopathy and addiction. These are two worthy touchstones to test philosophical conceptions of a human being (psychopathy is well chosen as a kind of polar opposite to creativity). And so is here. Psychopaths like to present them as victims of an accident of birth and circumstances when on trial but not so much so when or before committing their crimes. The chapter is to a larger extent a discussion of responsibility and blameworthiness as well as of the role of punishment. Baggini interviews forensic psychotherapists and deliberates about the aim of the criminal justice system. He rightly focusses on the distinction between "the metaphysical question of what ultimately originates our choices and behaviours" and "the ethical question of what essentially regulates behaviour" (144). It is a pity, however, that the examples of psychopaths he gives are limited to ordinary criminals: serial killers, rapists etc. and not of great psychopaths like Hitler, Stalin or Mao to start with the most known dictators. Again, like in the chapter devoted to artists the bigger scale and format of art geniuses and psychopaths might perhaps make Baggini's arguments more compelling. Like the psychopath's, the addict's case provides a good test as to what free will is about. Baggini is clear enough in saying that addiction "is an impairment of free will but it is not a complete loss of it" (157). If it were the latter, an addict couldn't perhaps choose one particular substance over another at a given moment. Baggini shows that those who proclaim the absence of will or choice in psychopathy (see 150) and addiction (159) modifies thereby the psychopaths' and addicts' behaviour in such a way as to make it less autonomous and more irresponsible (or more generally: "if people are told they are not responsible for their actions, they may behave more irresponsibly" (150), drawn on experiments carried out by Vohs, Scholler and Baumeister). This way they contradict themselves. The issue of free will in addiction is better seen as a conflict between first- and second-order will. Where Baggini misses the point, however, is when he postulates to identify with these feelings that one accepts as his own (see 170). This is too general. In some cases addiction may be about having as introjected, say, one's parent's self (this is a psychological or emotional dependency of which addiction is just one form). The addict does not have his own independent self on which he might rely and which is yet to be built. Finally, H. Frankfurt whose views are referred to and quoted as of an expert is presented here in an odd way as a kind of addict or so it can seem: "he doesn't want to be too critical of this 'because I am an analytic philosopher: I was trained as such and I believe in it." (175) []. All in all, the four cases presented by Baggini, artist, dissident, psychopath and addict, support his view on free will as a matter of degree: it can be diminished (or increased) but it rarely disappears completely (or becomes absolute).
The fifth part, including the two chapters, The Philosopher and The Waiter, is a conclusion. Baggini presents more broadly why the issue of free will is insolvable within philosophy. One of the reasons is that philosophers are often driven by personal interests and dispositions, emotions and intuitions, prejudices and personal judgements and it is not that true that "philosophy is about arguments, not arguers" (194). Otherwise free will is intractable if yes-or-no solution is expected. Moreover, it can be an opaque or ambiguous concept or a discretionary one. Its meaning can be fuzzy and better grasped in terms of "'more or less' rather than 'either/or'" (187). Finally it can be not a culturally universal idea. If so there are more than one notion of free will. Baggini's is a realistic view of free will which is such as to be a matter of a degree and understood "at the appropriate human scale" (217).
On the whole I find - as will be clear from the above - the first part the most interesting philosophically and the richest in arguments. In other chapters what Baggini gives us is rather journalistic in style - he often relies on the authority of other authors. Baggini's quotes are many times second-hand. Sometimes this brings about the charm of the book but in some cases it matters critically because Baggini makes a claim without proof simply depending on another author. So when he says, "we have seen that the ancient Greek lack the modern idea of free will" (200). This may be true but this hasn't be proved by Baggini by any other way than calling on M. Frede's work. Yet, the book is easy to read and its optimism is welcome in the present-day "thicket of misconceptions, one that has become thornier and more overgrown in recent years" (208).
[] In this context Baggini confuses Stoics with Epicurus crediting the former with the notion of 'swerve' (19).
[] In the course of his arguments Baggini refers to several names. Here the name of Nicolai Hartmann could have been added since he extensively worked on the idea of levels of reality and sciences.
[] An interesting solution to this is suggested by K. Dabrowski in his theory of Positive Disintegration by means of the notion of third factor.
[] Baggini concludes by pointing out to "strategies to make sure control", one of which is "Ulysses trick" (177). This has been wonderfully analyzed by J. Shay, Odysseus in America (2002) in the chapter: What Was the Sirens' Song? Truth As Deadly Addiction.
© 2016 Robert Zaborowski