Free Will (book)

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Free Will
Free Will, first edition.jpg
AuthorSam Harris
CountryUnited States
SubjectFree will
Media typePrint (Paperback)
Preceded byLying 
Followed byWaking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion 

Free Will is a 2012 book by American philosopher Sam Harris. It argues that free will is an illusion, but that this does not undermine morality or diminish the importance of political and social freedom, and that it can and should change the way we think about some of the most important questions in life.[1][2][3][4]


Harris says the idea of free will "cannot be mapped on to any conceivable reality" and is incoherent.[5][6] According to Harris, science "reveals you to be a biochemical puppet."[7] People's thoughts and intentions, Harris says, "emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control." Every choice we make is made as a result of preceding causes. These choices we make are determined by those causes, and are therefore not really choices at all. Furthermore, Harris states that our thoughts and intentions arise from background causes that we cannot control and thus our actions influenced by these thoughts are also uncontrollable. Harris also draws a distinction between conscious and unconscious reactions to the world. Even without free will, consciousness has an important role to play in the choices we make. Harris argues that this realization 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.


The book has been the subject of criticism.[8][9][4][10] For example, in a critical review, philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett argued that Free Will attacks only the "popular" idea of free will, which Dennett accepts to be flawed. He states that "improvements" to the popular idea of free will exist and that Harris should have instead addressed these.[11] Harris published a response.[12] Commenting on both Dennett's review and Harris' reply, author Richard Carrier criticised Harris' response, saying Dennett "extensively cites experts and published work in the subject" while Harris did not, further claiming Harris held the field of philosophy in "contempt".[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Menaker, Daniel (2012-07-13). "'Free Will,' by Sam Harris". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-10-31.
  2. ^ "Book Review: Sam Harris' Free Will". American Humanist Association. Archived from the original on 2016-01-22. Retrieved 2015-10-31.
  3. ^ "Will This Post Make Sam Harris Change His Mind About Free Will?". Retrieved 2015-10-31.
  4. ^ a b Blackford, Russell (2012-04-26). "How free is the will? Sam Harris misses his mark". ABC Religion & Ethics. Retrieved 2020-08-06.
  5. ^ Pardi, Paul (2012-05-15). "An Analysis of Sam Harris's Free Will". Philosophy News. Retrieved 2020-08-06.
  6. ^ Harris, Sam. "Free Will and "Free Will"". SamHarris.Org. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  7. ^ Nahmias, Eddy (August 13, 2012). "Does Contemporary Neuroscience Support or Challenge the Reality of Free Will?" Archived 2015-07-15 at the Wayback Machine Big Questions Online.
  8. ^ Horgan, John (2012-04-09). "Will This Post Make Sam Harris Change His Mind About Free Will?". Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved 2020-08-06.
  9. ^ "Free Will: Why Sam Harris needs to read more Philosophy". A Philosopher's Take. 2012-07-29. Retrieved 2020-08-06.
  10. ^ "Is Sam Harris Right About Free Will?: A Book Review". Biola University Center for Christian Thought / The Table. 2014-05-26. Retrieved 2020-08-06.
  11. ^ Dennett, Daniel (2017). "Reflections on Sam Harris' "Free Will"". Rivista internazionale di Filosofia e Psicologia. 8 (3): 214–230. doi:10.4453/rifp.2017.0018. ISSN 2039-4667.
  12. ^ "The Marionette's Lament". 2014-02-12. Retrieved 2020-08-06.
  13. ^ Carrier, Richard (2018-05-31). "Dennett vs. Harris on Free Will • Richard Carrier". Richard Carrier. Retrieved 2020-08-06.