John Markos O'Neill's Reviews > Free Will

Free Will by Sam Harris
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's review
Mar 07, 2012

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Read from March 07 to 23, 2012

I found this book pretty confusing: I couldn't really put my finger on what Harris thinks free will is. For example, he says we don't have free will to choose the ideas that come into our minds: he says they come from somewhere, and we don't really choose them. We don't get to take credit for them.

We don't get to take credit for characteristics of ourselves we can't control: those that came from our genes and those that came from our upbringing.

Maybe I read this book too fast, but it seems to me as though Harris defined free will so narrowly that he narrowed it out of existence. To Harris, if my mind comes up with an idea, but I wasn't able to observe or actively control my mind creating that idea, that wasn't free will.

Harris also argues that criminals are not exercising free will when they commit crimes, because they are not truly in control of their actions. And yet, he acknowledges that society functions best when we act as though they are truly in control.

Anyway, these are some interesting ideas. I'm not sure he's right about the nonexistence of free will, or whether it matters whether we have free will. The last third of the book is devoted to references, so it's clear Harris has done research. It would be interesting to re-read this short book, and to go back and follow some of the references. As it is, I had something of a hard time understanding what Harris is getting at.

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03/07/2012 page 51
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