Review of Neurophilosophy of Free Will: From Libertarian Illusions to a Concept of Natural Autonomy, Henrik Walter [Book Review]
Philo 6 (1) (2001)
The question of whether humans have free will, like the question of the meaning of life, is one whose answer depends on how the question itself is interpreted. In his recent book Neurophilosophy of Free Will: From Libertarian Illusions to a Concept of Natural Autonomy, Henrik Walter examines whether free will is possible in a deterministic natural world, and he concludes that the answer is "It depends" (xi). He rejects a libertarian account of free will as internally inconsistent, but argues for a version of compatibilism that he calls "natural autonomy." Natural autonomy, or "giving oneself laws" (8), is a successor concept to libertarian free will, and it provides for a self-determination that is consistent with a deterministic and fully physical world. Walter covers a lot of ground in this book. He debunks dualism, examines classical and modern physics, critiques radical constructivism, and utilizes chaos theory, and he refers to figures from St. Augustine to Humberto Maturana, Dennett, Einstein, Hegel and Nozick. This book could be seen as encompassing two distinct projects. The first project is a defense of what Walter calls "neurophilosophy" as a methodology for answering traditional philosophical questions. This methodology is more commonly known as "cognitive science," and Walter accepts the naturalistic premises that underlie most of the work being done by cognitive scientists today. The second project is an application of the neurophilosophical methodology to the traditional question of whether free will is compatible with determinism. The defense of a neurophilosophical methodology is concentrated in the second section of the book, whereas the first and third sections focus on the issue of free will. In the first section Walter presents a thorough overview of the free will debate. It is the final third of the book that warrants the most attention, for this is where the original work is concentrated. Before we examine Walter's contribution to the free will debate, let us briefly look at his historical analysis and the neurophilosophical method that he advocates..
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