Sam Harris has posted a new article today called “Life Without Free Will“.
He starts off:
One of the most common objections to my position on free will is that accepting it could have terrible consequences, psychologically or socially. This is a strange rejoinder, analogous to what many religious people allege against atheism: Without a belief in God, human beings will cease to be good to one another.
Recognizing that my conscious mind is always downstream from the underlying causes of my thoughts, intentions, and actions does not change the fact that thoughts, intentions, and actions of all kinds are necessary for living a happy life—or an unhappy one, for that matter.
I haven’t been noticeably harmed, and I believe I have benefited, from knowing that the next thought that unfurls in my mind will arise and become effective (or not) due to conditions that I cannot know and did not bring into being. The negative effects that people worry about—a lack of motivation, a plunge into nihilism—are simply not evident in my life. And the positive effects have been obvious. Seeing through the illusion of free will has lessened my feelings of hatred for bad people. I’m still capable of feeling hatred, of course, but when I think about the actual causes of a person’s behavior, the feeling falls away. It is a relief to put down this burden, and I think nothing would be lost if we all put it down together. On the contrary, much would be gained. We could forget about retribution and concentrate entirely on mitigating harm. (And if punishing people proved important for either deterrence or rehabilitation, we could make prison as unpleasant as required.)