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Free Will [Kindle Edition]

Sam Harris
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (457 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews


"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

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
261 of 309 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brief, cogent, provocative and convincing. March 6, 2012
It was a Reformed theologian who disabused me of the concept of free will several years ago, and I've found it a fascinating topic ever since. Sam Harris has produced a brief monograph on the issue that manages to distill the key issues without creating an impenetrable density for the reader to slog through.

For those who think value is found in a dollars-to-words ratio, the thinness and focus of this volume might not seem like a bargain, but I loved having a book with something important to say that I actually READ. I'm not saying that all subject matter must be reduced to tweets, but I know that, for example, as fascinated as I am by the topic of moral improvement that Stephen Pinker covers in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, I am never going to read more than 600 pages just on that subject. There are simply too many other things I also care about. So Harris has done people like me a real favor by thinking about free will and pulling together the relevant evidence for his position, and expressing his ideas with his trademark wit and clarity in a work that can be digested in an hour or less.

For those who read about free will in other books and publications, there's nothing very new here. In fact, given the choice between recommending this book and something else, depending on the person I was talking with, I might instead suggest Cris Evatt's The Myth of Free Will, Revised & Expanded Edition.
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98 of 121 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb!! March 6, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Free Will by Sam Harris

"Free Will" is the persuasive essay that makes the compelling case that free will is an illusion. Free will is intuitively understood but a difficult concept to master. Dr. Harris systematically, and with few precise words destroys the notion of the concept of free will. With a degree in philosophy and a doctorate degree in neuroscience and the innate ability to convey difficult concepts to the layperson, Dr. Harris is best suited to enlighten us on such a challenging topic. This 96-page book is composed of the following eight chapters: 1. The Unconscious Origins of the Will, 2. Changing the Subject, 3. Cause and Effect, 4. Choices, Efforts, Intentions, 5. Might the Truth Be Bad for Us?, 6. Moral Responsibility, 7. Politics, and 8. Conclusion.

1. Fascinating topic in the hands of a great thinker.
2. Profound without being unintelligible. Elegant and accessible prose.
3. Does a great job of dissecting free will. The author systematically beaks down the concept of free will by attacking it from various angles.
4. More so than his previous great essay "Lying" he makes more use of his scientific background. He relays studies that support his arguments.
5. The illusion of being in control is a concept that Dr. Harris masterfully destroys.
6. The author differentiates voluntary and involuntary actions.
7. Great quotes, "Our sense of free will results from a failure to understand this: We do not know what we intend to do until the intention itself arises".
8. A discussion on the three main philosophical approaches: determinism, libertarianism, and compatibilism.
9. Great examples that help the reader comprehend the challenging concept of free will.
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43 of 54 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good start, but could use some fleshing out. March 11, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It's great to have Sam on board the no-free-will train, but for those of us who have been riding it for a while, the scenery may seem largely familiar. Still, the idea of not having free will is so difficult to grasp, even for those who have been struggling with it for some time, that Sam's arguments, analogies, and the recent research he presents are likely to be helpful. It's a short book for such a big topic, but its brevity and clarity may make it more accessible to some than a work of more depth might be.

On the other hand, it would have been fairly easy to give his arguments a broader perspective. For example, he says:

"People feel that they are the authors of their thoughts and actions, and this is the only reason why there seems to be a problem of free will worth talking about."(pp. 31-32, all references are to the Kindle Edition.)

In fact, people of all cultures and all times have not necessarily had this feeling. The Greeks seem to have laid the foundation for the idea, and it primarily evolved as a topic of Western thought. Seeing free will as a cultural, historical phenomenon can undermine the sense of inevitability that accompanies it in Western discourse.

Free will is part of a complex of misconceptions about how our brains work, and while Sam scratches the surface of some of these in a scattered way, these misconceptions reinforce each other, making it difficult to root one out unless all of them are exposed.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Amazing clarity
Published 9 days ago by Pavel Filimonov
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Thoroughly enjoyed this, well written and well researched.
Published 9 days ago by Sean Thomas
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
well satisfied
Published 10 days ago by Donald W. Carter
5.0 out of 5 stars i read the ebook but had to have this for my collection
great condition !!
Published 23 days ago by mark
4.0 out of 5 stars not bad
Makes you think regardless of your thoughts on the topic. I have more questions than answers, but got my brain working
Published 24 days ago by richard deluga
5.0 out of 5 stars Is Luck the answer?
I was very enlightened by Harris' notions, and after reading just a few pages I realized that I had been thinking in similar terms as he. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Sharon Raymond
4.0 out of 5 stars I had no choice but to give this book a 4 star rating.
I'm glad that my lack of free will caused me to read this book and understand why I didn't actually choose to read this excellent book ;)
Published 1 month ago by Mike K.
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshingly succinct and direct in a realm that is most ...
Refreshingly succinct and direct in a realm that is most usually characterized by verbosity and sophistry. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Aaron Gehan
3.0 out of 5 stars Determinism best as a mystical awareness, not another Fundamentalism
“There is paradox here that vitiates the very notion of freedom—for what would influence the influence? More influences? None of these adventitious mental states are the real you. Read more
Published 1 month ago by J Kragt
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great Read.
Published 1 month ago by diana592
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More 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, Lying, and Waking Up. The End of Faith won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction.

Mr. Harris's writing has been published in more than 15 languages. His work has been discussed in The New York Times, Time, Scientific American, Nature, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and many other journals. His essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Economist, Newsweek, The Times (London), The Boston Globe, The Atlantic, The Annals of Neurology, and elsewhere.

Mr. Harris is a cofounder and the 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 Ph.D. in neuroscience from UCLA.

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