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49 Reviews
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant premise
This is essentially a very clever man making an almost watertight argument for something which we all know cannot be true. In short, it's a work of genius, and people should be made to read it in school. Especially in religious schools! ;)
Published 20 months ago by A. Jolliffe

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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lively text that fails to address the modern debate
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...
Published on 2 Jun 2012 by Peter Clarke


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5.0 out of 5 stars A great read!, 19 Sep 2013
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A great, concise read about free will and whether or not or to what extent we are able to exercise it. Just what I hoped for. As a lay person interested in psychology and the wonders of the human mind and brain this was just perfect.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 10 Aug 2013
By 
Philip Mayo - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Free Will (Paperback)
The point is : we do not have Free Will - it is an illusion.
This is an excellent treatise on the subject which avoids long-windedness and anal gazing. All of the logic outlined here I had already figured out for myself by the time I was 18, in 1966, and about which I have bored the behinds off many people, then and since, without convincing anyone, as far as I know. All of them should read this book and then look on me with vastly increased respect !
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5.0 out of 5 stars Sixty pages and the world changes, 25 Jun 2013
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A well written, original and challenging book presented in the most digestible way, really short. The book will only take a few hours to read, particularly as Sam Harris has developed an excellent writing style but it will take some time to sink in. Highly ambitious yet fresh and clearly successful.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, but I prefer his talks about this subject, 12 Jun 2013
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This review is from: Free Will (Kindle Edition)
I had watched him talk about this very subject on web videos, and I loved it, so I thought I should read this book. I have to say that his talks express the same idea in a more concise manner, and that the extra material I have read here do not really bring anything that interesting. It is still a a great read and Sam is a master modern philosopher: unlike most philosophers he uses understandable concepts to make any point, and he remains practical and concrete at all times, which makes it readable by anyone.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, as expected, 1 April 2013
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Alot of people will find it very hard to accept the ideas in this book. Peoples egos tend to deny the concept of having no real free will. A very good read, not for the closed minded.
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5.0 out of 5 stars knocks the nail on the head, 8 Nov 2012
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The beauty of many short books like this is that they get to the point without any long winded philosophical waffle.
I really enjoyed this book because it points directly to show you and see for yourself that thoughts and choices are autamatic , or in other words a reflex action with no such thing as a me , dictating.
This also demolishes the long assumed belief in a god that gave man the power of free will. A good round of ammunition for when the Jehovas whitnesses come knocking at the door.
I have given the book 5 stars for this reason alone.
, The pages are a bit unusual and feel hand made at the edges when you turn them though, but this should not be a reason not to buy this book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Bang on...but then I was always going to say that, 5 Oct 2012
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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 nothing...in 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. Our upbringing was chosen for us by our parents. Their decisions are not their own either.
It is very difficult to argue against the points Sam makes in this book. It's short, because it's such a fundamentally basic argument. However, the implications are staggering! Note, they are not terrifying. Just as nihilism leads to existentialism, our lack of freewill is only a scary thought as we cling to the belief that it is something we need. Once you understand it is something we don't have...indeed, something we have never had...the world starts to make much more sense.

Why not 5 stars?
The writing isn't particularly polished. Whilst the book is short, it could have been even shorter. Sam Harris drags it out just to give it the semblance of being a book, although it probably should have just been a short essay. Worth the money though - the idea is incredible. Whilst not original, Sam's position in the public eye has helped bring the philosophy to a wider audience.
Also, I am not convinced by Sam's moral argument. As well as reading the book, I have also heard him argue the philosophy at debates and he tries to argue that, even though we don't have freewill, we should be held morally accountable. He explains why he thinks this, but, whilst I would ideally love to believe this and am still trying to comprehend his argument, at present I see it as being an idealistic want and just don't quite buy it.

Maybe I'm just not quite ready to...
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4.0 out of 5 stars Convincing but contradictory, 27 Sep 2012
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Ransen Owen (Italy) - See all my reviews
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Four stars because the arguments against free will are well put and clearly explained.

But at one point Sam Harrid "forgets" to use the arguments he has used in the rest of the book: He lays a lack of sugar may make you bicker with your wife, but realising the cause you can up your sugar intake and thus grab hold of one of the strings which manipulate your will. But that "grabbing hold" is not an act of free will according to his own arguments, it is just a result of previous situations.

So the last star is missing because of that tiny but important slip, or deliberate error.
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50 of 69 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Missing the point, 10 Mar 2012
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This review is from: Free Will (Paperback)
I must disappoint at least one reader: the free will issue is far too complex to be described in a 'crystal clear' way in just 80 pages. It is a problem with a long tradition and one which is far from easy to address. Anyone who wants to understand the matter will have to read considerably more than this.

For neuroscientists, the free will issue is one of mechanisms; for philosophers it is a matter of concepts. Harris falls into that narrow crevasse between the philosophical side of the debate and the neuroscientific side of the debate. This is already obvious on page four: having described a dreadful crime, Harris makes the point about the criminals that 'were I to trade places with one of these men, atom for atom, I would BE him.' Well, of course you would, Mr Harris! Most philosophers have long since abandoned the idea that 'Sam Harris' is a ghost who happens to reside in the body of Sam Harris. Sam Harris is Sam Harris, that's it, in a materialist world. There is no ghost in-the machine. But what has that to do with the issue of free will? It doesn't follow from the fact that Sam Harris is a material entity that Sam Harris does not have the possibility of making choices.

Numerous errors follow from his basic misconception of what personal identity might be. It is certainly true, for instance that 'I cannot take credit for the fact that I do not have the soul of a psychopath'. On the other hand, even psychopaths can choose: the fear of being caught keeps most psychopaths within reasonable bounds most of the time, as psychotherapists tell us. Very few psychopaths end up in jail. Instead, They look at the circumstances and make their decision 'wisely'. YOU might decide that to kill someone would be to do something morally awful and therefore not to do it. That's your set of rules. The psychopath might decide that to kill someone might be fun, but not worth the bother of 30 years in prison. That's his set of rules. That is why they have to be severely punished when they take evil decisions - it deters them. The fact that they do not offend all the time shows us that they can make choices.

Nor is it true that we have no control over our thoughts, as Harris claims. I can sit down in my philosophical armchair right now, call up a whole list of themes to think about such as a) my last holiday, b) my next holiday or c) the book I am currently reading etc. I can decide to put aside a) and b) and focus on c) for the three hours or so. (If you doubt that, then try it). Sure that impulse is coming from the totality of my physical being - but to point that out is question begging. Where else is it supposed to come from?

Furthermore, it is indeed difficult to change bad habits such as smoking. But: IT CAN BE DONE! Lot's of people have done so. This only proves that we are not as free as we pretend to be, but we do ultimately seem to have the long term possiblity of at least mild changes of course. Clearly some are better at it than others but that is a psychological issue (motivations, mechanisms, success rates) not a philosophical, i.e. a conceptual issue. We are a bundle of impulses and desires, to be sure - but it doesn't follow that we cannot make choices.

Harris makes much of his friendship with Daniel Dennett - but maybe he should listen to his friend rather more closely? Dennett is one of the deepest thinkers on the issue of free will today, and has developed his own (very restricted) idea of what free will might be. He addresses and deals with all of the points raised by Harris and has addressed most of them decades ago. There is no new argument here.

In summary: Harris simply makes his unoriginal point over and over again, which makes even this notably short book too long. He is haranguing or browbeating us, rather than discussing with us. What he essentially has to say is said in the first six pages.

It is hard to know for whom this book is written: the informed reader will shake his or her head and be surprised at the naivety of the argumentation. The uninformed reader is likely to think that philosophers are still pursuing the 'ghost-in-the-machine' concept which was denigrated by Gilbert Ryle a whole generation ago (Dennett was one of his students). The book gets two stars for effort: to give it more would be an injustice to those who have thought considerably harder about the difficult matter of free will.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Just terrible. If you place any weight on logic and ..., 24 Aug 2014
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Just terrible. If you place any weight on logic and consistency in argument then you won't find much to enjoy here.
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Free Will
Free Will by Sam Harris (Paperback - 26 April 2012)
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