User:Woozle/Free Will/fisking

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This isn't a line-for-line fisking; I only call out quotes and assertions when they seem significant. Much of the book starts with conclusions that I consider refuted, so I don't see much need to address them -- but it's quite possible that I may have missed some significant new arguments buried within those conclusions, so I will be happy to add to this fisking if anyone feels there are points which I have not satisfactorily addressed.

Introduction (p.14)

For convenience, I'll use the following shorthand to refer to specific meanings of "free will":

  • FW!aca = academic usage (yet to be defined)
  • FW!lay = lay usage (how most people understand it -- real-world consequences for ethical and legal systems)
  • FW!SH = Harris's usage, as derived from statements in this book
  • FW!DD = free will as explained by Daniel Dennett
  • FW!W = my definition, as spelled out here -- an attempt at defining FW!lay

It has been argued that Harris is discussing only the academic usage of the term, but Harris's very first paragraph leaves me thinking that he's actually referring to the lay understanding of it (emphasis mine):

...most of what is distinctly human about our lives seems to depend upon our viewing one another as autonomous persons, capable of free choice.

Just a few sentences later, he makes it clear that he is referring to a real-world understanding with direct consequences for our legal and ethical systems:

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.

From this, we can derive one fact about "free will" in the sense that Harris means it: its absence means that cognition is not just deterministic, but "clockwork".

Hayes and Komisarjevsky

I see at least a couple of logical flaws in the discussion of the two murderers. My position on this matter is not one that is (yet) part of the cultural mainstream, but I believe it follows rationally (and compassionately) from what we now know about crime.

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.

Well, if we hadn't heard the details, then of course that's how we would feel. Harris gives additional details, however, and claims our need for revenge would not be tempered by them:

  • Hayes (H) has since shown signs of remorse and has attempted suicide
  • Komisarjevsky (K) was repeatedly raped as a child
  • K says, in his journals, that for as long as he can remember he has known that he was "different" from other people, psychologically damaged, and capable of great coldness.
  • K "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."

My attitude towards any criminal (by which I mean someone who commits crime not for some reasonable good end, or accidentally, but instead deliberately, for personal gain, and in excess of their basic needs) -- murderers and killers included -- is that they did not choose to have a temperament which predisposes them to such activity. This is not to say that they should be forgiven and set free, which is the usual straw-man given as the only alternative to traditional punitive measures. Clearly society needs to be protected from such people -- and if anyone's freedom is to suffer as a result of this need, it should be the perpetrator, not everyone else. This is the only useful purpose that prisons currently serve.

Further: to the extent that we have any (affordable) methods of reducing the "criminal" aspect of any criminal's personality, those methods should be offered to the criminal -- with the possibility of eventual release if they are successful -- on a voluntary basis, as an alternative to indefinite detention. (For most criminals, I suspect that simply having their basic needs met would negate most of their criminal tendency.)

"Such details might begin to give us pause.", says Harris, but then adds:

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.

This is a naked assertion, without any evidence; since we're still in the introduction, presumably Harris will defend it later... but on the face of it, it seems clearly wrong: Certainly through studying the brain -- as Harris himself describes in his book The Moral Landscape, if I understand that book's thesis correctly -- we can gain an understanding of what particular features lead to various types of criminal behavior. We have already begun to do this, and progress in brain science is accelerating rapidly. Saying "we can't account" for their behavior is absurd.

Even without brain science, however, we can make some accounting of how we are different, or why we behave differently, from many criminals:

  • Much crime is situational: an individual got into a bad situation with a loan shark, desperately needs a lot of money very quickly, and can't appeal to the law for succor without severe negative consequences.
  • Some criminals, conversely, are criminals because they lack a sense of empathy, and therefore have no compunction against harming others as long as they can get away with it. While the cruelty with which they treat other people makes it difficult to feel any direct sympathy for them, we may recognize on an intellectual level that they have other positive attributes (as I understand it, many psychopathic killers are otherwise quite competent people -- often even warm, personable, and friendly whenever this helps them to get what they want) which are wasted if the criminal is either executed or imprisoned in a way that prevents them from using their skills.

Harris then makes a circular argument:

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.

Sure -- if you were that other person exactly, then there wouldn't be any part of you that was different from them. How is this a meaningful statement?

Wouldn't it be more useful to ask "if I had the exact personality of one of those men but knew everything that I know now about psychology and neurology, would I behave differently?" I think the answer would be "yes", although exactly what would be different is a separate discussion. The point is that we are not helpless in the face of these mental differences. We can, at the very least, ask questions and do thought-experiments. Given more resources, we can do real-world experiments with situations and pharmaceuticals and re-education, and perform brain-scans and other evaluations to figure out what is going on and how we can affect it.

Harris's subsequent arguments are based on the assumption that we feel no sympathy towards these criminals -- as I have just stated that I do, in a very particular way -- except in the unusual case of clear brain damage of some kind (such as a tumor). I argue, however, that a functional defect is a functional defect whether or not you can identify its physical source. If we define "defect" as "that which causes someone to be unable to engage successfully with society", then clearly criminals have a mental "defect" in the same sense that mentally retarded people, or people with autism or epilepsy, have a "defect". (There may rightly be some objection to my use of the word "defect" to describe autistics or epileptics; I'm using it in a very specific way that does not, or at least is not intended to, devalue anyone regardless of what "defects" they may have. Please read the next paragraph before reacting.)

The difference between (a) "hard-wired" criminals and (b) epileptics, autistics, etc. is that the "defects" of the latter do not pose a serious danger to others merely by their existence, while the "defect" of criminality clearly does. (I'll note that epileptics may pose a threat if they have a seizure while operating heavy machinery -- which is why we generally don't let epileptics have drivers' licenses unless they have their condition under control. The idea of selectively preventing behaviorally-caused harm due to brain "defects" is not a new one.)

It's an Illusion

Without even reading the argument in defense of this claim, there's a problem with it:

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.

Saying that "thoughts and intentions emerge from [things] over which we exert no conscious control" implies a couple of things:

  • our consciousness has a will (which is simply not able to express itself through our actions)
  • conscious control is required for "free will"

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.

Finally we start to get to the argument behind Harris's thesis. This is an obvious false dichotomy. Why can't our wills be the end product of both prior causes and chance? Less trivially, even if our wills were entirely the product of prior causes, how does this contradict the idea that we have free will? He's right that FW!SH is conceptually incoherent, but that does not mean it cannot be defined in a coherent way; he has simply failed to do so.

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.

I'll be interested to see his arguments for both of these.

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.

How does this contradict the idea of free will? (Or, in other words, "so what?")

Chapter 1: The Unconscious Origins of the Will (p.18)

The argument here seems to be that because we cannot explain the processes by which we arrive at decisions or initiate actions, we therefore do not control our own decisions or actions.

First off, this is like saying that if we cannot enumerate and explain every muscle movement we make while riding a bicycle, then we aren't really in control of the bicycle.

Second off, if we were able to describe that process in all its essential details, wouldn't Harris then turn around and say that because the process is completely describable, and there is no box in the flow-chart which we can label "free will", that therefore free will doesn't exist? His claim is not falsifiable -- or at least he has not offered any clear test for how it might be falsified.

So what if brain scans can detect your decisions before you make them? How does that mean you didn't make them? When I order a pizza, a suitable monitoring of my physiology might have noticed various symptoms of increasing hunger (lowering blood sugar and so forth) long before I actually made the decision about how to respond to those symptoms. Does this mean that I didn't order it after all, that I was somehow predestined to order it, that it somehow could have been predicted in advance exactly what and when I would choose to eat, that I was not in fact the author of my decision to order a pizza?

Consider the difference between the decision to make a decision (e.g. "I'm hungry. What are my options?") with the decision itself ("There's a snack machine. I have cash in my pocket. Am I hungry enough to go through the effort of getting up, going over there, and punching some buttons in order to get a tiny bag of potato chips?"). The brain scanner can detect that we've decided to get up before we even know we've decided it -- but does it know that before we've realized that we're hungry? Maybe it can even detect that we've realized that we're hungry -- but does it know that before we start thinking about it? Does it know when we're about to start thinking about it? (What does it mean to say "we know we've decided", anyway? How much advance notice is the scanner able to provide -- enough that we would have time to indicate that we haven't yet made a decision, after the scanner is already aware that we have?)

How does any of this apparent foreknowledge (by a few seconds) support Harris's contention that we have no control over our own decisions and actions?

If you don't know what your soul is going to do next, you are not in control.

Again, I refer to riding a bicycle: you may not know in advance which direction your muscles will twitch as they operate to keep you in balance, but that says nothing at all against your ability to decide whether to take a right or left fork, much less your ability to set a destination as your goal and to arrive there.

Of course, this insight [that free will is an illusion] does not make social and political freedom any less important.

I'm glad Harris says this -- but I worry that it will be overlooked. "If free will is an illusion," I can imagine the argument going, "why does it matter whether we allow people to rule themselves or not, since people will vote however they want to regardless of what is reasonable? Should we bother to attempt rehabilitation of criminals, since they are just acting on their brain-wiring regardless of what we teach them? Is reason really any better than blind faith, if we are all just operating according to our pre-programmed instructions?"

The fact that Harris's arguments against "free will" do not support any of these conclusions can easily be overlooked, since he still has not given a clear definition of what he is arguing against -- and especially given that he seems to be concluding (in his introduction) that these things would in fact be true in the absence of free will:

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.

Harris concludes with another statement that gives us some insight into FW!SH:

Consider what it would take to actually have free will. You would need to be aware of all the factors that determine your thoughts and actions, and you would need to have complete control over those factors. But there is a paradox here that vitiates the very notion of freedom – for what would influence the influences? More influences? None of these adventitious mental states are the real you. You are not controlling the storm, and you are not lost in it. You are the storm.

Gosh, you mean that the concepts of "free will", "volition", and "consciousness" might involve complex feedback loops and recursive interactions, instead of being a simple unidirectional set of instructions with a completely predictable outcome? Who knew that sentience would be so difficult to understand. </sarcasm>

How is that "storm" not the very essence of free will?

Chapter 2: Changing the Subject (p.21)

In this chapter, Harris seems to be switching from the colloquial definition of free will (FW!lay) which seems to be the subject of the introduction and Chapter 1 to more academic discussions of the concept (FW!aca). It's not clear whether he considers both FW!aca and FW!lay to be encompassed by FW!SH, or whether they are even consistent with each other. It almost seems as if he is dismissing FW!lay as unworkable, and turning next to FW!aca to see if it contains anything more usable -- but he does not actually say this as far as I can see.

He states that the philosophical literature contains three principal approaches to the idea of free will:

Harris states that determinism and libertarianism both hold (basically) that free will cannot exist if our actions are determined by previous experience. This is not strictly true, for several reasons:

  • Determinism:
    • It is only hard determinism which holds this (see wikipedia:Determinism#Free_will_and_determinism).
    • Even within a completely deterministic process (i.e. no quantum effects), it can be practically impossible to predict the outcome of a given operation because you cannot precisely replicate the initial conditions upon which the operation depends.
    • Even within a completely deterministic process, it can be theoretically impossible to predict the outcome of a given operation without duplicating that operation exactly.
    • In other words, for some types of processes, there is no shortcut; you must become the other person, and travel back to the exact time and place, knowing only what they know, in order to accurately predict what they would do under those conditions. You cannot simplify or model; you must visit the territory, because no map carries sufficient information. While this does not negate the idea of determinism itself, it does negate most of the things we might assume to be true in a deterministic universe; it does not make the universe any more predictable or regular.
  • Libertarianism argues that free will is logically incompatible with a deterministic universe and that agents have free will, and that, therefore, determinism is false.
    • See above for why this is wrong.

(Harris argues that the data shows pretty conclusively that yes, our actions are in every meaningful sense determined by prior experience in the real world -- and I agree.)

Having (perhaps prematurely) eliminated determinism and libertarianism, Harris next looks at "compatibilism", which basically just represents the only remaining possibility -- that {the determination of action by previous experience} is compatible with the idea of free will -- along with a body of thought arguing for this view.

Compatibilists generally claim that a person is free as long as he is free from any outer or inner compulsions that would prevent him from acting on his actual desires and intentions.

This is compatible with FW!W except for the phrase "or inner" -- not because I disagree, but because I think we're moving into nebulous territory by validating the idea of "inner compulsions" -- and that kind of ambiguity has a way of becoming a conflation of different concepts. We need to pin down what we're talking about before we start using it to conclude things.

So, where do we draw the line between "outer, "inner", and "self"?

I think Harris would agree with me that an epileptic does not suffer seizures by choice, and that therefore those seizures do not represent an exercise of free will -- even though they originate from within the brain -- because they do not originate within the "self".

Let's go straight to the other end of the spectrum and take another look at those two deranged killers Harris mentioned in the introduction:

  • Hayes (H) has since shown signs of remorse and has attempted suicide
  • Komisarjevsky (K) "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."

Are these the reactions of men whose acts were made of their own free will? Certainly not -- Harris even uses them as evidence that none of us have free will. This is, however, an overgeneralization -- most of us do not commit apparently deliberate acts of horror that leave us stunned, remorseful and suicidal, wondering what got into us -- as K apparently found himself wondering (emphasis mine):

He claimed that his victim's screams then triggered something within him, and he bludgeoned Petit with all his strength until he fell silent.

This speaks clearly of something within the brain but external to the self. He did not decide (or even believe he had decided, however wrong it might be to believe in one's own agency in decisionmaking) to take this action; some "thing" got triggered, and apparently took over.

I have also read of a schizophrenic who somehow figured out that he frequently mis-heard calm remarks as violent obscenities, and had learned to double-check whenever a remark seemed out of character. Others less intelligent, less observant, or more prone to violence might not have been able to overcome this information processing defect, and might therefore have committed lethal acts as a result of their misunderstanding of a situation (e.g. falsely believing that their life was in jeopardy because of mis-processing an innocuous comment). To the extent that they were choosing their reactions to a given situation (i.e. the belief of a mortal threat), someone with this problem would be exercising free will -- but to the extent that their understanding of the situation was being distorted by means beyond their control (causing them to react inappropriately to the real situation), they were not exercising free will. (Note: I had to add to my definition the condition that one's perception of reality must not be distorted beyond any reasonable expectation.)

For that reason -- i.e. that the boundaries of the brain do not define the boundaries of the "self" -- I prefer to speak of "external" compulsions (meaning something arising outside the self, outside one's control) rather than "outer" or "inner". (Not because the language is better, but just so I can claim the words "internal" and "external" and use them as I wish for the purpose of this discussion.) K's bludgeoning of Petit was the result of something "triggered ... within him", but neither a deliberate choice nor something which he saw (in retrospect) as being in accordance with his conscious wishes (either at the time or later).

Note that it's possible that K did have some subconscious wishes that were played out that night, and that the existence of such would in fact be a constraint on his free will -- but that still doesn't mean that free will doesn't exist; it just means that free will can be subject to constraints arising inside the brain (but nonetheless external to the self -- I'd say a "constraint" is external by definition).

The core argument: we don't control our actions

Harris then takes the next step:

Our moral intuitions and sense of personal agency are anchored to a felt sense that we are the conscious source of our thoughts and actions. When deciding whom to marry or which book to read, we do not feel compelled by prior events over which we have no control. The freedom that we presume for ourselves and readily attribute to others is felt to slip the influence of impersonal background causes. And the moment we see that such causes are fully effective – as any detailed account of the neurophysiology of human thought and behavior would reveal – we can no longer locate a plausible hook upon which to hang our conventional notions of personal responsibility.

This is nonsense.

Just because I'm not aware of every step (much less monitoring or actuating every detail) of how a task is accomplished -- be that riding a bike, sending an email, rendering a 3d model, or making a decision -- does not mean that I am not responsible for initiating that action, and for deciding what action to initiate.

Indeed, it seems so obviously false that I find it disturbing to think someone as intelligent, perceptive, and non-agenda-driven as Harris could have asserted it. My first thought is to think that he must have gotten so tangled up in his terminology that he lost sight of the connection from his subject back to reality.

My second thought is to wonder if perhaps I'm significantly misinterpreting his claim -- but I see no other way to interpret it. He is clearly asserting that if we don't understand the process by which we make a decision, then we aren't really making it; something else inside of us is doing all the work.

By the same token, I am not really typing this analysis; my computer is doing all the real work, while I sit here making motions with my fingers, giving myself the illusion of control over the outcome.

Maybe I should just go to bed... but something within me won't let me stop without hearing him through completely, to make sure I haven't missed something important. Clearly, gremlins living deep in my id are running the show -- or wait, is it the molecules in the neurons of my brain, and the laws of chemistry governing their firing? Perhaps I should just sit back and let them get on with it instead of actually trying to think through Harris's argument, consider my response, or choose the particular words I will use to express that response.

Harris then runs with this to the obvious conclusions regarding criminal ethics:

What does it mean to say that rapists and murderers commit their crimes of their own free will? If this statement means anything, it must be that they could have behaved differently – not on the basis of random influences over which they have no control, but because they, as conscious agents, were free to think and act in other ways. To say that they were free not to rape and murder is to say that they could have resisted the impulse to do so (or could have avoided feeling such an impulse altogether) – with the universe, including their brains, in precisely the same state it was in at the moment they committed their crimes. Assuming that violent criminals have such freedom, we reflexively blame them for their actions. But without it, the place for our blame suddenly vanishes, and even the most terrifying sociopaths begin to seem like victims themselves. The moment we catch sight of the stream of causes that precede their conscious decisions, reaching back into childhood and beyond, their culpability begins to disappear.

This is phrased as if hypothetical, but he's basing it on a conclusion he has already accepted as true -- so I can only think Harris is arguing that criminals are not truly culpable for their crimes.

As explained earlier, I agree in part -- where we're talking about criminals who are actually evil rather than having made a bad judgment of some kind (or committed a crime for some reasonable justification), punishment and incarceration are of limited utility... especially when punishment of limited duration is absent any well-researched efforts at identifying and fixing the problem which caused the criminal behavior in the first place.

It should be made clear, however, that there will always be criminals who are so defective that we can neither "fix" them nor allow them freedom... and that although the criminal justice system's technique of imprisoning criminals does at least serve this function, in a limited and overgeneralized way, we certainly could do with better methodology.

Freedom without conflict

Harris then moves on to identify what he sees as another problem with compatibilism:

The problem for compatibilism runs deeper, however – for where is the freedom in wanting what one wants without any internal conflict whatsoever? Where is the freedom in being perfectly satisfied with your thoughts, intentions, and subsequent actions when they are the product of prior events that you had absolutely no hand in creating?

It took me a minute to figure out what he was talking about. Why is this a problem, even for FW!SH?

What has apparently happened here is that FW!SH defines free will in terms of the ability to go against the will of another -- for a child to disobey parents, for instance, or for a soldier to disobey a commanding officer.

As I understand it, however, that was never a definition of free will but more of an example where it is clearly demonstrated. Conflict with another will is not required in order to demonstrate the freeness of one's own. Indeed, one has more freedom of will when there is not a conflict.

This is a little like describing artificial light as "something which lets you read late at night", and thereby coming to the conclusion that artificial light can't exist during the day.

A secondary argument: in a sense, one is exercising one's will against the innate tendency of the universe to not automatically give you what you want. If you didn't exercise your will to lift the glass of water to your mouth, it wouldn't happen on its own.

At this point, Harris's arguments against FW!SH continue to be based on a framework which seems wrong to me -- and do not seem to pose any serious objections to FW!W, though I have little doubt others will see problems. I will be happy to address these objections as they come up.

I'll try to give a quick overview of the arguments in each of the rest of the chapters, and how they affect FW!W.

Chapter 3: Cause and Effect (p.30)

Harris: For our commonsense notions of human agency and morality to hold, our actions can't be purely the result of the operation of natural laws.

Yes they can; I see no problems here. See earlier discussion of determinism. Chance is not necessary in order to create free will, so I won't counter the arguments showing how it couldn't be (although just from reading the first two, I could).

Chapter 4: Choices, Efforts, Intentions (p.32)

Harris seems to be admitting that while free will is an illusion, consciousness seems necessary. Is he saying it exists, or is he going to demolish this idea as well?

He then says something interesting:

...the fact that our choices depend on prior causes does not mean that they don't matter.

This seems to undermine his entire thesis: the very fact that we make choices that matter means that we have at least FW!lay. Punishment should act as a deterrent, influencing people's behavior.

Therefore, while it is true to say that a person would have done otherwise if he had chosen to do otherwise, this does not deliver the kind of free will that most people seem to cherish – because a person's "choices" merely appear in his mind as though sprung from the void.

What does he mean by "the kind of free will that most people seem to cherish"? This is the closest he has come to referring to it directly, and yet it is never defined.

The remainder of the chapter seems to be about this argument:

Harris: We don't control our levels of motivation, therefore we don't have free will.

As is now well-known in cognitive psychology, motivation is not exactly a black box. Yes, it can be influenced by things external to the self, such as hormones and sugar levels, but it is also heavily influenced by how we cognitively perceive reality.

Those who have never stopped to think deeply about how we build our view of reality -- for example, in order to unwind a set of mistaken ideas they were taught as children or led to believe by an abusive spouse -- might come to believe that these processes are truly a black box whose insides are inaccessible. They are not. Certainly there are some aspects of it that we do not control -- any more than we are in control when we take a curve too tightly and fall off the bicycle -- but it is a scope error to say we are not in control at all, or even overall, simply because we do not dictate every detail of how we function internally. It is a false dichotomy to say that we are not in control at all if we are not in control completely.

Even the "life coach" example Harris gives is an example of the exercise of free will: we note that we are feeling unhappy and unmotivated, we note that others have solved this problem by use of a particular technique, we apply that technique to ourselves, and we achieve the results we wanted. If it didn't work, presumably we would try something else until we either succeeded, gave up in despair (which I would argue is an impairment of free will), or died.

However, to say that I could have done otherwise is merely to think the thought "I could have done otherwise" after doing whatever I in fact did. This is an empty affirmation.

How is it "empty affirmation" if you do in fact behave differently the next time you run into those circumstances? How is that not "free will"?

At times, Harris seems to be playing a reverse god of the gaps with the idea of free will: "Surely X demonstrates free will? But no, see how I now further refine FW!SH so that it does not include X. But how about Y? Yes, one might think so, but see how I move the goalposts yet again! No matter what you might think proves free will, I can redefine FW!SH so as to exclude that. Therefore there is no free will!"

This is why Harris needs to define FW!SH at the very outset, instead of making us guess what he thinks it is by seeing what he doesn't think it is... which seems to be something that can't logically exist in the first place.

Chapter 5: Might the Truth Be Bad for Us? (p.41)

Harris asks whether it might be a problem for people to understand that free will is an illusion, and decides that it is not.

I disagree, but mainly because I think (a) it's not true, and (b) even to the extent that it is true for FW!SH, people will misunderstand this conclusion to apply to FW!lay, which it does not.

I agree with Harris that people should know the truth (whatever it may be), and that we should not prevent exposure even to wrong ideas like the ones presented in this book. We do, however, need to worry that people will take bad arguments seriously if they are worked out in a persuasive way, which Harris certainly does here... and consequently, it is important to identify those aspects that are wrong and vigorously refute them.

Chapter 6: Moral Responsibility (p.43)

Harris gets into more detail on the issues raised regarding the two killers in the introduction, and posits some more real-life scenarios. I believe FW!W handles these scenarios is an a way that is both compassionate and rational (although rather more liberal than current judicial practice -- a low bar to hurdle, these days), but I'll be happy to spell out any details that are not obvious.

Chapter 7: Politics (p.51)

Harris accurately identifies one of the main political axes on which liberals and conservatives differ, and of course places his position at the extreme opposite of the conservative one:

Consider the biography of any "self-made" man, and you will find that his success was entirely dependent on background conditions that he did not make and of which he was merely the beneficiary.

While this may literally be true -- the man's initiative, intelligence, resourcefulness, kindness, loyalty, and any other positive traits about his "self" are entirely the result of the actions of molecules in his brain -- just as the words you're reading right now are entirely the result of actions taken by the electrons within your computer monitor, the wires connecting it to your computer, and the circuitry within your computer.

It is not the literal statement of this which is wrong; it is the implications -- which Harris does very little to dispel:

Of course, conservatives are right to think that we must encourage people to work to the best of their abilities and discourage free riders wherever we can. And it is wise to hold people responsible for their actions when doing so influences their behavior and brings benefit to society.

What do he mean by "of course"? This does not follow from what he has said so far.

In essence, Harris argues that all of society is based on a concept that can't logically exist -- and where it is nonetheless needed, he leaves us with "of course" to prop things up. He denies one rational structure -- however approximate or even wrong it may be in places -- upon which to base morality, and leaves us with nothing but two-by-fours propping up our conclusions. He does not attempt to build any new structure to take its place -- even though his own work suggests that this is exactly what should be done.

Chapter 8: Conclusion (p.53)

This book is an illusion, and Harris didn't really write it. There is nothing to see here; move along. As befits a conclusion, Harris makes no new assertions here.