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new book – ‘The Self Beyond Itself: An Alternative History of Ethics, the New Brain Sciences, and the Myth of Free Will’ by Heidi M. Ravven

Written on May 23, 2013

Self Beyong Itself

The Self Beyond Itself: An Alternative History of Ethics, the New Brain Sciences, and the Myth of Free Will by Heidi M. Ravven (New Press, 2013)

(kindle ed.), (amazon.co.uk)

Book description from the publisher:

Why be ethical? For freedom’s sake; for joy, for pleasure, for a sense of living on in the universe of which one is a tiny, local expression; and for an enhanced sense of agency in a dangerous, unpredictable, and ephemeral existence… Opening oneself to being more broadly acted upon by the world in order to discover oneself within it — surely as a basis for acting more broadly within it — is a paradoxical route to freedom.

Few concepts are more unshakable in Western culture than free will, the idea that people are fundamentally free to make good or bad decisions. Scholar Heidi M. Ravven throws a wrench into this conventional view, calling free will a myth that reflects the still-powerful influence of Christian theology on our popular thinking.

The Self Beyond Itself offers a riveting and accessible review of modern neuro-scientific research into the brain’s capacity for decision-making—from mirror neurons and self-mapping to surprising new understandings of the dynamics of group psychology. Ultimately, this research points to the profound, virtually inescapable social influences on moral choices. Ravven shows that it is possible to build a theory of ethics that doesn’t rely on free will yet still holds both individuals and groups responsible for the decisions that help create a good society. Drawing especially on the work of Spinoza, she introduces readers to a rich philosophical tradition that finds uncanny confirmation in modern neuroscience.

Highly readable and wide-ranging, The Self Beyond Itself injects the full weight of modern science into our current, stale discourse on right and wrong.

See also: “The Self Beyond Itself: Further Reflection on Spinoza’s Systems Theory of Ethics” (6-page pdf)

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