Dennett shows that human freedom is not an illusion; it is an objective phenomenon, distinct from all other biological conditions and found in only one species - us. There was a time on this planet when it didn't exist, quite recently in fact. It had to evolve like every other feature of the biosphere, and it continues to evolve today.
Dennett shows that far from there being an incompatibility between contemporary science and the traditional vision of freedom and morality, it is only recently that science has advanced to the point where we can see how we came to have our unique kind of freedom.
"Trading in a supernatural soul for a natural soul is this a fair bargain?" Dennett, seeking to fend off "caricatures of Darwinian thinking" that plague his philosophical camp, argues in this incendiary, brilliant, even dangerous book that it is. Picking up where he left off in Darwin's Dangerous Idea (a Pulitzer and National Book Award finalist), he zeroes in on free will, a sticking point to the opposing camp. Dennett calls his perspective "naturalism," a synthesis of philosophy and the natural sciences; his critics have called it determinism, reductionism, bioprophecy, Lamarckianism. Drawing on evolutionary biology, neuroscience, economic game theory, philosophy and Richard Dawkins's meme, the author argues that there is indeed such a thing as free will, but it "is not a preexisting feature of our existence, like the law of gravity." Dennett seeks to counter scientific caricature with precision, empiricism and philosophical outcomes derived from rigorous logic. This book comprises a kind of toolbox of intellectual exercises favoring cultural evolution, the idea that culture, morality and freedom are as much a result of evolution by natural selection as our physical and genetic attributes. Yet genetic determinism, he argues, does not imply inevitability, as his critics may claim, nor does it cancel out the soul. Rather, he says, it bolsters the ideals of morality and choice, and illustrates why those ideals must be nurtured and guarded. Dennett clearly relishes pushing other scientists' buttons. Though natural selection itself is still a subject of controversy, the author, director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts, most certainly is in the vanguard of the philosophy of science. (On sale Feb. 10)