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Free Will Paperback – Deckle Edge, 26 Apr 2012

3.9 out of 5 stars 80 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: The Free Press (26 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451683405
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451683400
  • Product Dimensions: 14.3 x 1.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 10,100 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Free will is an illusion so convincing that people simply refuse to believe that we don't have it. In" Free Will," Sam Harris combines neuroscience and psychology to lay this illusion to rest at last. Like all of Harris's books, this one will not only unsettle you but make you think deeply. Read it: you have no choice."--Jerry A. Coyne, Professor of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago, and author of "Why Evolution Is True"

About the Author

Sam Harris's diversified career has run the gamut from multi-million-selling singer and songwriter to Tony-nominated actor to writer, director, and producer.

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Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a short book in which Harris pretty convincingly argues the case against the idea that we can do other than we do and also briefly considers the motivational, moral and political implications of accepting such a view.

Central to Harris's argument is his view that not only is free will incompatible with objective descriptions of behaviour but also with our subjective experience: thus "the illusion of free will is in itself an illusion". In our subjective experience thoughts arise and take hold (or not) in ways that are subjectively if not theoretically mysterious (i.e. theoretically they arise from our brain states that are in themselves formed of chains of biologically coded influence). He writes vividly of his own 'choices' to show the determinism that is apparent if one carefully reflects on ordinary experience; "the choice you make will come out of the darkness of prior causes that you, the conscious witness of your experience, did not bring into being". He acknowledges, however, that our efforts matter and that we can alter the framework of our influences to make certain kinds of 'choices' more likely. He rejects that this entails free will but insofar as it acknowledges that we are causally relevant agents in the direction of our lives it seems to me that he comes close.

If you find this review a bit heavy going, that is because I have needed to be succinct - the book itself is a much easier read. I recommend this book strongly to anyone who wants an accessible chew on the gristle of this fundamental and intriguing problem. Of course, whether or not you choose to follow this up is all a matter of determinism...
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've read all six of Sam Harris's books in the last few months, and picking a favourite would be like asking a mother to pick her favourite child, but if I had to rank them from "best" to just "excellent", Free Will would come near the top.

Drawing on his expertise as both a neuroscientist and an experienced meditator, Harris explores the age-old philosophical question, "do we have free will? Are we truly the conscious authors of our actions, or are we just fixed-track automatons living under the delusion that we have control?" The question itself is nothing new, and numerous answers have been offered over the years, ranging ranging from the interesting and insightful to the confusing, meaningless, and masturbatory. Can Harris bring anything new to the table? To me: yes.

Granted, I have no formal training in philosophy and am not familiar with the huge body of work that already exists on this subject, but Free Will isn't intended to be an all-encompassing philosophical treatise to be kept on dusty university library shelves and only ever pondered by PhDs. It's a succinct and incisive opinion piece that's open to all comers, and I found Harris's arguments to be eye-opening and authoritative - delivered with his trademark ability to steamroll any intellectual opponent in his path.

Without meaning to spoil the ending, Harris's own answer to the question "do we have free will?" is a resounding "no". His arguments have been formulated in both the philosophy department and the research lab - and I found them convincing from all angles.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At the risk of sounding arrogant, let me start by saying I am an amateur reader of philosophy at best. I have read and studied it for years...but only as a hobby. My opinion counts for fact, I'm surprised you're still reading this.

Now my apology is out of the way, let me give you some condescending instructions:
1) If you are new to existentialism, nihilism, humanism, etc. do not read this yet. Buy it. Decorate your bookshelf with it. Use it as a coaster. Swat a fly with it. But don't read it...YET! The book is short. Very short. But it is profound, advanced stuff, and trust me when I say you have to be ready for it! We grow up in a society that encourages freedom of independent thought, freewill, responsibility for our actions...this book brings this crashing down. Philosophy is a process. It takes time to read, longer to understand, and even longer to truly accept. There is no time limit for how long it takes to "get it"...take as long as you need...but it does require a lot of brain power, and don't move on to the next big idea until you have the foundations set and solid. This is the next big step...

2) For the rest of you...Harris needs no introduction to seasoned readers of our contemporary philosophers. Indirectly mentored by the modern greats (Dennet, Dawkins, Hitchens, etc.) he is one of philosophy and atheism's leading champions.
This book argues that determinism is. Note this is not the same as predeterminism. There is no plan mapped out somewhere for the decisions we will make, or the events that will follow.
But, our decisions are a product of our thoughts. Our thoughts are a product of the chemicals in our brain. We have no control over the release of these chemicals.
Our chosen environment is a product of our upbringing.
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