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Disclamer: I am striving to understand the point of view, not to examine if it is right or wrong (makes sense or not, etc.).


I have listened to two audio excerpts by Sam Harris, discussing his views on the concept of free will. (The audios themselves came from Sam's Waking Up app, though I don't think they differ from the views on the subject he expressed elsewhere.)

The point (as I grasped it): there is no such thing as free will. Everything (our thoughts, intentions, motivations, actions etc.) is caused by the external factors, that are out of our control.

I can grasp the viewpoint (as expressed above) with no problem. Though in the same audio excerpts Harris says:

there is a difference though between voluntary and non-voluntary action

and that voluntary actions can be 'deterred'. He also says that:

our beliefs matter, because there is a difference between knowledge and delusion


I don't see how such claims fit together with the idea of absence of free will. Our beliefs would be defined, based on all prior causes. Our actions would be (pre)determined, as well based on prior causes, and they could not be 'deterred'. All we can do in a framework without free will is observe what is happening. We can't even control our judgements about what we are observing (as judgements themselves are based on prior causes).

I read somewhere that most of Sam Harris's philosophical views are sort of distilled from Buddhism, so maybe something similar is stated there as well.

I would like to understand two things:

  1. What is there left to do for an individual accepting absence of free will (as it seems to me it'll be like watching a movie — you can influence nothing, only observe)?
  2. How do ideas of changing one's beliefs and 'voluntary'/'non-voluntary' actions fit in the picture?

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