Perspectives on freedom: five books

What is freedom? How do we conceive of it? During lockdown, the question of whether we are being deprived of our freedom, or whether such a crude construction demeans its very essence, is prescient. We’ve rounded up five texts that take different approaches to understanding what it is, what we base our understanding of it on, and whether it’s even scientifically possible.

1:The Righteous Mind - Jonathan Haidt

” Haidt claims that just as we have the taste receptors of salt, sweet, bitter, and so on, so we generally work on five basic moral receptors: those pertaining to caring, fairness, loyalty, authority and sanctity.”

2: The Blank Slate - Steven Pinker

“Evolution may have endowed us with great plasticity of thought, but it is ridiculous to expect that our recent emergence from the trees would leave us devoid of any hard-wired instructions for dealing with life.”

3: Free Will - Sam Harris “Every choice we make is made as a result of preceding causes. These choices we make are determined by those causes, and are therefore not really choices at all. A respected neuroscientist, he briefly outlines some of the science supporting this assertion, but more importantly explores what this fact means to us as human beings.”

4: The Moral Animal - Robert Wright

“It lucidly explains our understanding of the evolution of human moral sentiments and draws out provocative implications for sexual, family, office and societal politics. But Mr. Wright’s main lesson comes from the very fact that morality is an adaptation designed to maximize genetic self-interest, a function that is entirely hidden from our conscious experience. Our intuitive moral principles, he says, have no claim to inherent truth and should be distrusted. In Darwin’s wake we must reconstruct morality from the ground up.”

5: The Human Instinct - Kenneth R. Miller

“One of the most common reasons for rejecting evolution is surely a fear that we would be relegated to being just another animal. Are we just another animal sculpted by evolution? Yes we most definitely are, insists Miller, but he points out that this is certainly not the end of the story.”

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This page was last edited on Thursday, 28 May 2020 at 07:33 UTC