An Impossible Reality

Raymond Tallis

£25.00  |  $35.00
ISBN 9781788213783
£25.00  |  $35.00
ISBN 9781788213790
320 pages   |  234 x 156mm   |  31 May 2021


The question of free will has preoccupied philosophers for millennia. In recent years the debate has been reinvigorated by the findings of neuroscience and, for some, the notion that we have free will has finally been laid to rest. Not so, says Raymond Tallis. In his quest to reconcile our practical belief in our own agency with our theoretical doubts, Tallis advances powerful and original arguments for the reality of freedom.

Tallis challenges the idea that the laws of nature wire us into a causally closed world that imprisons. He shows that our capacity to discover and exploit these laws is central to understanding the nature of voluntary action and to reconciling free will with our status as material beings.

Tallis brings his familiar erudition and insight to this most intriguing and important philosophical question, one that impacts most directly on our lives and touches on nearly every other philosophical problem – of consciousness, of time, of the nature of the natural world, and of our unique place in the cosmos. Tallis’s fascinating exploration takes us to the heart of what we are, and by understanding our freedom shows our extraordinary nature more clearly.


Overture: Intention and Intentionality

1. The Impossibility of Free Will
1.1 Laws and Causes
1.2 Neurodeterminism

2. Putting Laws and Causes in their Place
2.1 Do Laws Have Legislative Power?
2.2 The Unnatural Nature of the Science of Nature
2.3 Exploiting the Laws of Science
2.4 Unpicking Causes: Hume-iliation and Beyond

3. The Human Agent
3.1 What Real Actions Look Like
3.2 Agency and Possibility
3.3 Actions, Causes and Propositional Attitudes
3.4 Agent Causation: Law-Governed Causation’s Last Stand
3.5 Actions: Engaging with Nature from Without

4. The Limits of Freedom



Author Information

Raymond Tallis trained in medicine at Oxford University and at St Thomas’ Hospital London before becoming Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences for his research in clinical neuroscience and he has played a key role in developing guidelines for the care of stroke patients in the UK. From 2011–14 he was Chair of Healthcare Professionals for Assisted Dying.

He retired from medicine in 2006 to become a full-time writer. His books have ranged across many subjects – from philosophical anthropology to literary and cultural criticism – but all are characterised by a fascination for the infinite complexity of human lives and the human condition. The Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine lists him as one of the world’s leading polymaths.

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