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W. Buchanan (U.K.)

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Free Will
Free Will
Price: £4.99

3.0 out of 5 stars True but superficial., 5 April 2014
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This review is from: Free Will (Kindle Edition)
"Free Will" is in part a long version of the simple dichotomy I realised myself as an undergraduate, that events are either deterministic or random, that there is no third way, and that our sense of free will dissolves under consideration of these two alternatives. For a choice to be rational it must be determined by prior factors that we did not control, and if it is not determined by these, a choice is random and neither then can we claim to be its author. Harris goes into more detail explaining this thesis, but if you reject it at the start, I'm not sure his prose is eloquent enough to persuade many by its end.

There is some brief discussion of neuroscience, such as experiments demonstrating the delay between detectable neurological changes and consciously reported experience, but these could have been discussed at greater length I think. Having recently read D. B. Hart's "The Experience of God", I don't find Harris's explanation of these phenomena is as compelling as I'd like it to be. Our advances in neuroscience make all the difference between arguing about these issues with Harris or with Spinoza, and Harris could have extended the neuroscientific background to his arguments, to better effect than further poetic philosophising, rhetorical questions and introspection.

All this said, if you already agree or are convinced by his arguments, Harris does offer some insightful applications to ethics and politics of this way of thinking. Far from decrying the inevitable train wreck or lottery winnings of our partially-scripted, partially-random lives, Harris highlights the greater compassion that must follow from this understanding, and gives some poignant examples of how our criminal justice system needs to take a more pragmatic view of why people make certain moral decisions, and how we can be influenced to make the "right" ones.

While in no way a rigorous treatise on the subject, "Free Will" does round up some useful ideas that may direct you forwards positively and thoughtfully.


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