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Free Will Paperback – Deckle Edge, 26 Apr 2012

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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: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,475 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

"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

3.8 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Nigel Marshall on 18 Jan. 2014
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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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41 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Peter Clarke on 2 Jun. 2012
Format: Paperback
Philosophers debating free will have long understood that the term can be used in many ways, most of which are incoherent. Thus, advocates of "libertarian free will" (founded on the belief that free will requires indeterminism) have had to face the objection that indeterminate events in the brain would be expected to produce randomness, not freedom. And advocates of "compatibilist free will" (founded on the belief that some kinds of free will are compatible with determinism) have had to face other problems, including the one that many people find compatibilism intuitively implausible. Despite these difficulties, most leading philosophers (with a few important exceptions such as Galen Strawson, Derk Pereboom and Ted Honderich), have come to the conclusion that, if used cautiously, the term "free will" can be applied to human beings in a coherent, meaningful and true manner. One of the hard-won achievements of this 200 year old debate has been to separate out conceptions of free will that have a good chance of being coherent and even true, from those that are incoherent or probably untrue. It has been clear to all for many years that unsophisticated conceptions of free will are unlikely to stand up to philosophical analysis.

This 66 page text makes little attempt to contribute to the modern debate, but rather takes the easy option of attacking "the popular conception of free will" which, according to Harris "seems to rest on two assumptions: (1) that each of us could have behaved differently than we did in the past, and (2) that we are the conscious source of most of our thoughts and actions in the present".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rolo TOP 500 REVIEWER on 3 Jan. 2015
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`Free Will' is a beautifully written, witty, engaging and wonderfully short book. Unfortunately, philosophically speaking, it is not a very good book. You might ask how a complex topic can be dealt with satisfactorily in 66 pages? The answer is, it can't.

The issue of free will and determinism is a classic philosophical problem, but one which, untypically, has direct implications in terms of our day to day life (particularly in relation to moral responsibility). It is an issue that has also preoccupied psychologists, neuroscientists, physicists lawyers and ethicists - all of whom approach the subject in rather different ways. Harris is neuroscientist but my background is in philosophy (only to degree level and a long time ago) so I defer to Harris' 'friend' Daniel Dennett (a philosopher who I do not always agree with) for his incisive and thorough review that carefully exposes the weaknesses and contradictions in this book. Harris, to his credit, actually features (and replies to) this review on his blog: http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/reflections-on-free-will but he is far from happy with it: 'a strange document--avuncular in places, but more generally sneering. I think it fair to say that one could watch an entire season of Downton Abbey on Ritalin and not detect a finer note of condescension than you manage for twenty pages running' (Harris' reaction to Dennett's review). I won't attempt to repeat the arguments here but they make a great read.

Unlike Harris (but like most philosophers) I'm on the side of the 'compatibilist' - I accept the determinist view that events in the world are chains of cause and effect but that this does not rule out free will.
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