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Free Will [Paperback]

Sam Harris
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 6 2012 1451683405 978-1451683400
A BELIEF IN FREE WILL touches nearly everything that human beings value. It is difficult to think about law, politics, religion, public policy, intimate relationships, morality—as well as feelings of remorse or personal achievement—without first imagining that every person is the true source of his or her thoughts and actions. And yet the facts tell us that free will is an illusion.

In this enlightening book, Sam Harris argues that this truth about the human mind does not undermine morality or diminish the importance of social and political freedom, but it can and should change the way we think about some of the most important questions in life.

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Free Will + The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values + End Of Faith
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"In this elegant and provocative book, Sam Harris demonstrates—with great intellectual ferocity and panache—that free will is an inherently flawed and incoherent concept, even in subjective terms. If he is right, the book will radically change the way we view ourselves as human beings."
—V. S. Ramachandran, Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, UCSD, and author of The Tell-Tale Brain

"Brilliant and witty—and never less than incisive—Free Will shows that Sam Harris can say more in 13,000 words than most people do in 100,000."
—Oliver Sacks

"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

"Many say that believing that there is no free will is impossible—or, if possible, will cause nihilism and despair. In this feisty and personal essay, Harris offers himself as an example of a heart made less self-absorbed, and more morally sensitive and creative, because this particular wicked witch is dead."
—Owen Flanagan, Professor of Philosophy, Duke University, and author of The Really Hard Problem

"If you believe in free will, or know someone who does, here is the perfect antidote. In this smart, engaging, and extremely readable little book, Sam Harris argues that free will doesn’t exist, that we’re better off knowing that it doesn’t exist, and that—once we think about it in the right way—we can appreciate from our own experience that it doesn’t exist. This is a delightful discussion by one of the sharpest scholars around.”
—Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology, Yale University, and author of How Pleasure Works

About the Author

Sam Harris is the author of the bestselling books The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape, Free Will, and Lying. The End of Faith won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction. His writing has been published in over fifteen languages. Dr. Harris is cofounder and CEO of Project Reason, a nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. He received a degree in philosophy from Stanford University and a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA. Please visit his website at

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book March 6 2012
If you possess even a passing interest in free will, I highly recommend this book. Using up-to-date neuroscientific evidence and convincing logic, Sam Harris expertly demonstrates that free will does not exist, at least not as it is traditionally conceived. All the ideas and arguments used in this book are presented in an exceptionally clear manner. Although the topic of free will has been discussed for millenia, this book still comes out feeling fresh.

As an aside, I appreciated how Dr. Harris presents views which oppose his own (e.g., that of Dan Dennett) in a fair way. I also appreciate the humor in this book (especially towards the end) - I laughed out loud on more than one occasion. This book was a blast to read.

In sum, this really is a fantastic book, and I recommended it to anyone with even a passing interest in free will. If you currently accept free will as a reality, you must read this book! If you already view free will as largely illusory, you should still read this book; wither way, I guarantee you will learn information that you consider valuable.

As one reviewer of this book says, Free Will by Sam Harris says in 13000 words what many books fail to do in 100000. Read this book - you won't regret it.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Forceful essay on free will and determinism March 6 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
You can sum up Harris' argument about free will quite succinctly: you are free to choose what you want, but you are not free to want what you want. In this essay (it's not really a book with just over 60 pages of actual text) Harris outlines the idea that free will is an illusion. Our actions have causes that are fixed by our past histories. In other words, if you went back in time and duplicated your life to the last second, you'd be reading this sentence thinking the exact same thing you are now thinking. You did not have any "choice" in deciding to read that sentence, your life history and the causal events behind that history lead up to you reading that sentence. This of course, has profound implications for many aspects of human behavior, particularly morality.

I am on the fence with Harris, as I sometimes think I'm a compatibilist (a term I didn't know until I read this book). Essentially, that means yes, our choices are caused by a particular past meeting a particular present, but if an individual makes that choice on their own, free from unavoidable external pressures, than that individual is "free" with regards to their larger environment. However, I could never avoid the nagging thought that this is just a shell game, and Harris calls it out as such (and calls out Daniel Dennett for his belief in it). I still think it's a valuable short-hand for psychologists and behaviorists to use, but ultimately, I am persuaded that Harris is right. Because the causal events around us lock us in to our behavior just as surely as gravity locks the Earth around the sun.

If one believes in the uncertainty of quantum mechanics, then free will is still an illusion as random chance replaces causality.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Mediocre Sept. 20 2013
The book is well written but the point is subjective and not supported by any analysis
I do not recommend it
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightening, liberating, and humanizing! April 19 2012
By Faraz
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Up to this point of our civilization, we had realized that we cannot be proud of our race, ethnicity, family, etc. Now, thanks to the efforts of people like Sam, we get to know that we cannot even be proud of possessing a certain type of personality or ideas. Of course we always have few options (not necessarily desired by us) to choose in any circumstance, based on our state of mind (still not totally developed and caused by us). However, the only thing we can promote is to help people become physically and mentally healthier, and fill up their minds with more humanistic memes. And on the book's conclusion about the absurdity of the hatred against the victimizing victims: Nothing can be more liberating and humanizing than that for the future of our humanity!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars *Very short, but still a bit repetitive. March 23 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
*I did not find anything to dispute in what Sam writes.
*A very good primer on the nonexistence of "free will", + consequences...
*Very short, but still a bit repetitive: the main point is rephrased here and there, again and again!
*The style is OK, but could have been better. More examples and metaphors could have been used.
*The notes at the end mostly explain interesting but complex neuroscience experiments. Nice.
*Definitely worth the money.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was hoping to read a compelling argument supported by facts that would sway the doubtful and reaffirm the converted. Unfortunately I have to insert a "but" in my next line. But what I read seemed more like a transcript of a conversation at a local Starbucks than a carefully crafted book that you'd find folks reading at their local Starbucks. In a court of law I'd have to find free will not guilty of fraud based on a lack of evidence presented by the prosecution, led by Mr. Harris, even though I would quietly agree with his position based on arguments put forth by others. A light breezy read, I'd recommend this for leisurely beach reading while sipping on a few pina coladas. No heavy thought processing required.
Joe White
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Sam Harris writes very clearly and cogently. I am ...
Sam Harris writes very clearly and cogently. I am not sure what to think of the significance of his findings; very strange to consider.
Published 2 days ago by J E Morgan
5.0 out of 5 stars Sam Harris is a god
This book is great. Really makes you wonder about free will. Very short and easy to understand. Please get this book if you are interested in philosophy.
Published 5 months ago by John Johnson
4.0 out of 5 stars Great insight but too reductionist at times
Sam Harris IS a tremendous thinker.
I am in no position to criticize but only offer a seemingly missing diagnostic throughout the book.... The laws of EMERGENCE. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Cynikal
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise and enjoyable
Harris is an emphatic writer. He knows how to mix humor, science, philosophy, and good old common sense to make an accessible yet equally challenging read.
Published 8 months ago by Humble Journeyman
4.0 out of 5 stars Quick read to gain new perspectives
Good book, interesting insights. It's a fair assessment of circumstantial behavior that allows for compassion for "wrong-doers" and less jealousy for high-achievers. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Pam Starratt
5.0 out of 5 stars Short and Sweet
The book is very similar to the talks he does on the book in terms of content, it only goes into a bit more depth. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Jonathan R Beardall
4.0 out of 5 stars Expected more
The reason I bought this book was that I was discussing the same idea with my friends for some time and found it difficult to convey my understanding to others (that is, to justify... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Hesam Shahriari
5.0 out of 5 stars For my husband
He loved it. Exactly his kind of reading. Great discussions because of this book. You should buy Free Will for sure.
Published 22 months ago by Miryam Bougie-Lauzon
5.0 out of 5 stars a very good book
I just plain love Harris books they are always well documented and quite easy to read and understand. Carry on!
Published 22 months ago by Pierre-Henry Fontaine
2.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing concept with flawed conclusion....
Sam Harris, to begin with, is to be highly commended for bringing into the spotlight an issue that generationally we have taken for granted; Do we have free will? Read more
Published on June 23 2012 by Ronald W. Maron
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