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Do we have free will?

By Louis O'Neill - posted Monday, 5 November 2018

Do you feel you chose to click on this article? Or rather, did the firing of synapses in your brain force you to come here?

Well, Sam Harris would argue the latter.

Sam Harris is an author, atheist, neuroscientist, philosopher, and also what is known as an incompatibilist.


If the term incompatibilist isn't in your day-to-day vernacular, let me explain.

Firstly, to understand compatibilism we need to understand determinism.

Determinism is the belief that all actions are in fact shaped by prior events, and the events before those prior events, and so on until the very first moment of time.

You could imagine that we are all wind-up toys, and the Big Bang, (or whatever preceded it) was the hand which wound us, and put us on our course.

Now we've got that out of the way, an incompatibilist is someone who believes firstly in determinism, and who subsequently believes that the notion of free will among individuals is incompatible with determinism.

In simple terms, given the amount of factors which influenced us, influences which we had no control over, Sam would argue that we can't claim ownership of our own thoughts or actions.


Sam Harris, articulating a point without any choice to do otherwise.

Let me explain.

You didn't choose the year you were born. You didn't choose your parents, your gender, the color of your skin or the location you were born. Or to use a somewhat inverse example, if you are reading this, clearly you weren't born with a crippling intellectual disability.

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This article was first published on Medium.

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About the Author

Louis O'Neill is a writer from Sydney having graduated from Macquarie University with a Bachelor of Writing focusing on issues of philosophy, morality, religion and social commentary.

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