Free Will by Sam HarrisFree Will by Sam Harris

Free Will

bySam Harris

Paperback | March 6, 2012

Pricing and Purchase Info

$12.10 online 
$12.99 list price save 6%
Earn 61 plum® points

Prices and offers may vary in store


In stock online

Ships free on orders over $25

Available in stores


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.
Sam Harris received a degree in philosophy from Stanford University and a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA. His works include Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape, and Free Will. The End of Faith won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction. He is the co-founder and CEO of Project Reason, a nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading ...
Title:Free WillFormat:PaperbackDimensions:96 pages, 8 × 5.62 × 0.5 inPublished:March 6, 2012Publisher:Free PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1451683405

ISBN - 13:9781451683400

Look for similar items by category:


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enlightening A concise read on the argument of why free will is an illusion and how this changes our understanding of human affairs and the legal system. Goes hand in hand with his book Waking Up.
Date published: 2017-12-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Short and interesting On recommendation from a coworker, I read this in an evening. Coming from a Correctional work background I found some of these ideas hard to digest, but Sam Harris makes some very interesting claims. Leaves you with a lot to think about..
Date published: 2017-05-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Short introductory discussion Harris again brings the scientific approach into a philosophical discussion. The topic of free will has long been debated, but usually more from a godly (fate or not) or physics (deterministic) approach. This new framework comes from the side of neuroscience. Rather than a discussion of free-will from a purely deterministic/fate concept, Harris discuss the illusion of the conscious decision itself. It's not in that god made us to make that decision, nor that the universe is made to make us take the decision; rather that our genetics and environment, upbringing and education and friends has lead to the make-up of our brain and subconscious, which provides the framework for decision-making, which act ahead of or conscious decision. In that sense, we have made the decision before we are even aware. The downside of the book is its size, it is a small volume for a solid topic but it remains a great new take on the discussion.
Date published: 2017-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sam is great I want more. It was too short.
Date published: 2016-12-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from we are all biological computers. I hadn’t made up my mind immediately following this book, but its stuck with me, even after reading 3 more books since. Sam Harris destroyed my concept of free will and has caused me to re-think the human animal. It may have been my will to write this review, but it certainty wasn’t free choice that led me too it. My will is hidden in the depths of my brain, I now envision a Binary Brain and an operation system known as 'consciousness' .
Date published: 2015-07-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Mr Interesting enjoyable read , just not enough of it
Date published: 2014-09-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Substantial Insightful, if a little short.
Date published: 2014-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Substantial I was always comfortable with the assumption that I had Free Will, but Sam Harris' book got me to reexamine my position on the matter. Do not underestimate this short book if you've never thought about free will and the implications related to its non-existence, it can lead to serious existential questioning and angst.
Date published: 2014-01-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Unsettling I've heard a lot of Sam Harris' talks. This is however the first of his books I've read. I was surprised how accessible a book on neuroscience turned out to be. Ever since I read Scott Baker's novel Neuropath the idea that our consciousness is less a process of making choices and more of a process of OBSERVING choices already made for us is both fascinating and unsettling if not outright terrifying. Freewill did a great job of explaining the ramifications of such an idea even if it was a bit short on the actual science; which I freely admit most people would probably find quite dry.
Date published: 2013-12-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Its ok Interesting read but could be so much more to say on the matter. Too short for my liking.
Date published: 2013-11-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Read Interesting book that really makes you think about how we behave.
Date published: 2013-07-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Will and consciousness Not as meaty as I would have liked, but you've got to trust Harris for posing some fascinating ideas, in this case, what is the 'freedom' of free will.
Date published: 2013-02-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Something quiet profound If one to truly grasp the significance of this, then how would that change our approach to law, education, politics and leadership. Those who are successful most always feel themselves to be the author of there success. And no matter how compassionate they may feel themselves to be, that sense of entitlement is always going to form a barrier to deeper connection and sense of humanity.
Date published: 2013-01-02

Read from the Book

Free Will   The question of free will touches nearly everything we care about. Morality, law, politics, religion, public policy, intimate relationships, feelings of guilt and personal accomplishment—most of what is distinctly human about our lives seems to depend upon our viewing one another as autonomous persons, capable of free choice. If the scientific community were to declare free will an illusion, it would precipitate a culture war far more belligerent than the one that has been waged on the subject of evolution. Without free will, sinners and criminals would be nothing more than poorly calibrated clockwork, and any conception of justice that emphasized punishing them (rather than deterring, rehabilitating, or merely containing them) would appear utterly incongruous. And those of us who work hard and follow the rules would not “deserve” our success in any deep sense. It is not an accident that most people find these conclusions abhorrent. The stakes are high. In the early morning of July 23, 2007, Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky, two career criminals, arrived at the home of Dr. William and Jennifer Petit in Cheshire, a quiet town in central Connecticut. They found Dr. Petit asleep on a sofa in the sunroom. According to his taped confession, Komisarjevsky stood over the sleeping man for some minutes, hesitating, before striking him in the head with a baseball bat. He claimed that his victim’s screams then triggered something within him, and he bludgeoned Petit with all his strength until he fell silent. The two then bound Petit’s hands and feet and went upstairs to search the rest of the house. They discovered Jennifer Petit and her daughters—Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11—still asleep. They woke all three and immediately tied them to their beds. At 7:00 a.m., Hayes went to a gas station and bought four gallons of gasoline. At 9:30, he drove Jennifer Petit to her bank to withdraw $15,000 in cash. The conversation between Jennifer and the bank teller suggests that she was unaware of her husband’s injuries and believed that her captors would release her family unharmed. While Hayes and the girls’ mother were away, Komisarjevsky amused himself by taking naked photos of Michaela with his cell phone and masturbating on her. When Hayes returned with Jennifer, the two men divided up the money and briefly considered what they should do. They decided that Hayes should take Jennifer into the living room and rape her—which he did. He then strangled her, to the apparent surprise of his partner. At this point, the two men noticed that William Petit had slipped his bonds and escaped. They began to panic. They quickly doused the house with gasoline and set it on fire. When asked by the police why he hadn’t untied the two girls from their beds before lighting the blaze, Komisarjevsky said, “It just didn’t cross my mind.” The girls died of smoke inhalation. William Petit was the only survivor of the attack. Upon hearing about crimes of this kind, most of us naturally feel that men like Hayes and Komisarjevsky should be held morally responsible for their actions. Had we been close to the Petit family, many of us would feel entirely justified in killing these monsters with our own hands. Do we care that Hayes has since shown signs of remorse and has attempted suicide? Not really. What about the fact that Komisarjevsky was repeatedly raped as a child? According to his journals, for as long as he can remember, he has known that he was “different” from other people, psychologically damaged, and capable of great coldness. He also claims to have been stunned by his own behavior in the Petit home: He was a career burglar, not a murderer, and he had not consciously intended to kill anyone. Such details might begin to give us pause. As we will see, whether criminals like Hayes and Komisarjevsky can be trusted to honestly report their feelings and intentions is not the point: Whatever their conscious motives, these men cannot know why they are as they are. Nor can we account for why we are not like them. As sickening as I find their behavior, I have to admit that if I were to trade places with one of these men, atom for atom, I would be him: There is no extra part of me that could decide to see the world differently or to resist the impulse to victimize other people. Even if you believe that every human being harbors an immortal soul, the problem of responsibility remains: I cannot take credit for the fact that I do not have the soul of a psychopath. If I had truly been in Komisarjevsky’s shoes on July 23, 2007—that is, if I had his genes and life experience and an identical brain (or soul) in an identical state—I would have acted exactly as he did. There is simply no intellectually respectable position from which to deny this. The role of luck, therefore, appears decisive. Of course, if we learned that both these men had been suffering from brain tumors that explained their violent behavior, our moral intuitions would shift dramatically. But a neurological disorder appears to be just a special case of physical events giving rise to thoughts and actions. Understanding the neurophysiology of the brain, therefore, would seem to be as exculpatory as finding a tumor in it. How can we make sense of our lives, and hold people accountable for their choices, given the unconscious origins of our conscious minds? Free will is an illusion. Our wills are simply not of our own making. Thoughts and intentions emerge from background causes of which we are unaware and over which we exert no conscious control. We do not have the freedom we think we have. Free will is actually more than an illusion (or less), in that it cannot be made conceptually coherent. Either our wills are determined by prior causes and we are not responsible for them, or they are the product of chance and we are not responsible for them. If a man’s choice to shoot the president is determined by a certain pattern of neural activity, which is in turn the product of prior causes—perhaps an unfortunate coincidence of bad genes, an unhappy childhood, lost sleep, and cosmic-ray bombardment—what can it possibly mean to say that his will is “free”? No one has ever described a way in which mental and physical processes could arise that would attest to the existence of such freedom. Most illusions are made of sterner stuff than this. The popular conception of free will seems to rest on two assumptions: (1) that each of us could have behaved differently than we did in the past, and (2) that we are the conscious source of most of our thoughts and actions in the present. As we are about to see, however, both of these assumptions are false. But the deeper truth is that free will doesn’t even correspond to any subjective fact about us—and introspection soon proves as hostile to the idea as the laws of physics are. Seeming acts of volition merely arise spontaneously (whether caused, uncaused, or probabilistically inclined, it makes no difference) and cannot be traced to a point of origin in our conscious minds. A moment or two of serious self-scrutiny, and you might observe that you no more decide the next thought you think than the next thought I write.

Editorial Reviews

"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