An Impossible Reality

Raymond Tallis

£25.00  |  $35.00
ISBN 9781788213783
£25.00  |  $35.00
ISBN 9781788213790
280 pages   |  234 x 156mm   |  09 September 2021


"... classic Tallis. He deploys his typical analytic dexterity to establishing the reality of free will in opposition to all advocates for materialist reductionism — but it is 'an impossible reality'. By this he means that natural science, and the simplified metaphysics we take from it, are incomplete accounts of the world and, importantly, of human life, and 'to assert the undeniable reality of human agency is not, however, to deny its mystery' ... lucidly accessible to the non-specialist, but with a series of appendices provided for those disposed to delve deeper." – John Saxbee, Church Times

"The very title of Raymond Tallis’ new book tells us where he stands. Freedom is an ‘impossible reality’ – impossible according to theory, and yet affirmed by our every action. For Tallis, the experience of freedom is non-negotiable: we cannot but experience ourselves as choosing and deciding, intervening in the world in ways that make a difference to it. Beginning from the reality of this experience, Tallis argues that where our theories appear to contradict free will, it is a sign we have misinterpreted those theories. Scientific theories, far from providing arguments against free will, are powerful evidence for its existence ... Tallis does not suffer from the inhibition of academic philosophers, or share the restraint of their conclusions. This makes for an unusually invigorating treatise, especially in the critical sections." – The New Humanist


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 arguments for the reality of freedom.

Tallis challenges the idea that we are imprisoned by laws of nature that wire us into a causally closed world. 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.

Bringing his familiar verve and insight to this deep and most intriguing 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 takes us to the heart of what we are. By understanding our freedom he reveals our extraordinary nature more clearly.


Overture: intention and intentionality
1. The impossibility of free will
2. Bringing the laws on side
3. Unpicking causation
4. Actions
5. The human agent
6. 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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