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Do we have free will?

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

These are all factors thrust upon us without our consent.

Very few people would deny that the above factors play a massive role in shaping who we are as individuals.

Though, that doesn't necessarily mean we don't get a choice in our actions, does it?


Well this is where Harris' beliefs lie. Sam Harris believes that it is precisely these factors which discredit the notion of free will. Sam would argue that we are mere puppets to both environmental and genetic factors, none of which we actually authored ourselves.

It's a difficult pill to swallow and even as I'm writing this I feel uneasy accepting the notion that I was essentially placed upon a conveyor belt, on a path I can't control.

Though upon reflection, I didn't choose to have an interest in writing. Heck, had I been born into a bigger build with better eyesight, perhaps I'd have been an athlete of some kind.

Harris uses analogies which seem to make the case more cleanly.

Harris provides the 1966 case of Charles Whitman, who murdered 17 people, including his own mother and wife. This man is surely the definition of monster.

Well, it gets more interesting.


In his own suicide note, Whitman asked for an autopsy. It was found he had brain tumor in the hypothalamus region of his brain.

Assuming that we could neatly place all blame for Whitman's actions upon the tumor, and the subsequent effects it may have had on his thoughts, it seems quite clear that his free will had been impeded at that moment. Does this mean what he did is somehow negated? Of course it doesn't. Any living relatives of those affected will be forever marred by his actions. Though is he just as culpable as if he hadn't had the tumor at all?

Many would argue, no, we must acknowledge the tumors ability to force him to act uncharacteristically.

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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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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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