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136 LETTERS IN CANADA 1998 portant social and cultural issues that increasingly confront this and many other countries. Occasionally thought-provoking and written with some finesse, Elusive Margins, in the end, offers more than one might have initially assumed. (MICHAEL DORLAND) Jordan Howard Sobel. Puzzles for the Will: Fatalism, Newcomb and Samarra, Determinism and Omniscience University of Toronto Press. xiii, 212. $55.00 Do we ever have a choice concerning the actions that we perform? The question is not whether we ever choose those actions; rather, it is whether we could choose differently and would act differently were we so to choose. It is natural to think that we do have such a choice concerning at least some actions; it is natural to think, for example, that voters in the most recent federal or provincial election could have chosen to vote for another candidate, or to decline their ballot altogether, and that they would have done so had they so chosen. The possibility of effective choice for alternative actions is, according to Howard Sobel, constitutive of free will, and the ancient and deep question of whether we do in fact have such choice, and, thus, free will, is one of the two main issues discussed in this closely argued book. The other principal topic has to do with rational choice, with its conditions and with real or imagined threats to its possibility. Sobel is a careful andprecise thinker, who has written extensively on these problems. He guides us through acomplex range of arguments, displaying impressive analytic power though not at the expense of accessibility. Fatalism, as Sobel understands the term, is simply the denial of freewill, and it comes in different versions according to the grounds for that denial. Logical fatalism is the view that one can show, using logic alone, that the future is unavoidable. Sobel examines several of the standard arguments for this view and shows that they trade on ambiguities of modal scope, confusing necessity of the consequence ('Necessarily, if 1\>, then 'V') with necessity of the consequent ('If 4>, then necessarily, ,¥/), or of grammatical mood, confiating indicative and subjunctive conditionals. He concludes that while arguments for logical fatalisms can fascinate, 'their threats are bogus.' I think that Sobel is right about this, but while we may plausibly explain the illusion of force of some of these arguments in terms of an amphibology of one sort or another, I doubt that we can account for all philosophically interesting arguments for logical fatalism in this manner: in particular, I think that it is a mistake to suppose, as Sobel does, that Aristotle's famous sea-battle argument in chapter 9 of De Interpretatione turns on an ambiguity of modal scope. Sobel also discusses, and rejects, theological fatalism, the view that various theological doctrines - in particular, those concerning divine HUMANITIES 137 omniscience and divine foreknowledge - are inconsistent with free will. The largest part of his discussion, however, is devoted to the question of whether causal determinism is consistent with free will. Sobeldistinguishes various forms of determinism, each a possible elaboration of the causal principle that every event has an antecedent cause, together with various modes of each form, consisting of different views concerning laws of nature and the past. Though Sobel thinks some varieties of determinism more pIausible than others, he does not argue for or against determinism as such. Sobel contends, however, that freewill is consistent with some philosophically interesting varieties of determinism but not with others. Sobel's arguments are plausible. I have some misgivings, however, about an underlying assumption that figures in his formulations of determinism, which is that causality may be explicated in terms of logico-semantic relations between propositions and laws, without direct reference to events. Sobel's discussion of rational choice theory focuses on a pair of wellknown problems concerning prediction and choice, Newcomb's Problem and the Samarra Problem. He takes up the question of whether certain circumstances of predicted choice, such as those assumed by these problems, would preclude rational choice. The issue here is not whether it is possible to choose freely but whether it is possible to choose rationally. Defending a causal theory of rational decision-making, Sobel argues...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 136-137
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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