Our self-conception derives mostly from our own experience. We believe ourselves to be conscious, rational, social, ethical, language-using, political agents who possess free will. Yet we know we exist in a universe that consists of mindless, meaningless, unfree, nonrational, brute physical particles. How can we resolve the conflict between these two visions?
In Freedom and Neurobiology, the philosopher John Searle discusses the possibility of free will within the context of contemporary neurobiology. He begins by explaining the relationship between human reality and the more fundamental reality as described by physics and chemistry. Then he proposes a neurobiological resolution to the problem by demonstrating how various conceptions of free will have different consequences for the neurobiology of consciousness.
In the second half of the book, Searle applies his theory of social reality to the problem of political power, explaining the role of language in the formation of our political reality. The institutional structures that organize, empower, and regulate our lives-money, property, marriage, government-consist in the assignment and collective acceptance of certain statuses to objects and people. Whether it is the president of the United States, a twenty-dollar bill, or private property, these entities perform functions as determined by their status in our institutional reality. Searle focuses on the political powers that exist within these systems of status functions and the way in which language constitutes them.
Searle argues that consciousness and rationality are crucial to our existence and that they are the result of the biological evolution of our species. He addresses the problem of free will within the context of a neurobiological conception of consciousness and rationality, and he addresses the problem of political power within the context of this analysis.
A clear and concise contribution to the free-will debate and the study of cognition, Freedom and Neurobiology is essential reading for students and scholars of the philosophy of mind.
Columbia University Press
About the Author
John Searle is Slusser Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of sixteen books, including Speech Acts; Expression and Meaning; Intentionality; Minds, Brains, and Science; The Rediscovery of the Mind; The Construction of Social Reality; Rationality in Action; and Mind: An Introduction. His works have been translated into twenty-one languages, and in 2004, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal.
Columbia University Press
Read an Excerpt
How can we treat the problem of free will as a neurobiological problem? If free will is a genuine feature of the world and not merely an illusion, then it must have a neurobiological reality; there must be some feature of the brain that realizes free will. If consciousness is a higher level, or system, feature of the brain caused by the behavior of lower-level elements, such as neurons and synapses, what would the behavior of the neurons and the synapses have to be like if the conscious experience of free will were to be neurobiologically real?
The persistence of the traditional free will problem in philosophy seems to me something of a scandal. After all these centuries of writing about free will, it does not seem to me that we have made very much progress. I cannot give you a solution to the problem of free will but I hope to be at least able to state the problem in a precise enough form so that we can see what possible solutions would look like. What would the world, specifically our brains, be like if determinism were true and what would the world, specifically our brains, be like if determinism were false? In order to make any progress, we have to divide the huge problem, as I have done, into sets of smaller problems, and those indeed into even smaller problems so that we can answer them in a piecemeal fashion. Our strategy is to divide and conquer: divide these questions into questions of a more manageable form, and then work on them one at a time.-from the book
Table of Contents
Introduction. Philosophy and the Basic Facts1. Free Will as a Problem in Neurobiology2. Social Ontology and Political PowerIndex
Columbia University Press
What People are Saying About This
This book is a short but powerful presentation of views of the author... [it] includes interesting new arguments and is very useful... as an excellent and exceptionally clear summary of the free-will debate.
Joelle Proust, director of research, Institut Jean-Nicod, Paris
This small book speaks volumes. It shows why John Searle is the most widely read of philosophers of mind today and why he has a particularly large following among brain scientists. Searle here illustrates that he owes his success to two fundamental talents rare among philosophers. First, he is eminently readable. He is not simply interested in exposing his vast erudition but in explaining in straightforward entertaining prose what the issues of free will, language, and brain sciences are about. Second, Searle is eminently empirical. He does not see philosophy of mind as a rarefied discipline but one that is continuous with physics, biology, and brain science. Searle sees the task of philosophy as posing problems in precise enough terms to permit of an empirical, scientific solution.
These two features are brilliantly in evidence in this marvelous book. But what makes these lectures particularly inviting for readers not yet addicted to Searle is that he provides herefor the first timea broad introduction to the complete Searle. He combines in a thin volume the two major interests of his career: his early focus on language and his current focus on consciousness and free will. This is an irresistible treat for both the uninitiated and the cognoscenti.
Eric Kandel, Nobel Laureate, Columbia University