A Reflection on Reflections

I managed to read the “Reflections on Free Will” by Daniel C. Dannett twice. This is a review of the book of Sam Harris named Free Will. I read the book twice due to the concern that I may have missed the point. Keeping in mind to not to miss the point is very essential in my point of view specially concerning this type of philosophical work. There are at least three cogent reasons for keeping in mind that the point not be missed. 1) This is a very delicate topic. On a superficial level it may sound artistic and, thus, easy to comprehend, but in reality it demands a lot of attention. 2) Sam Harris is a very elegant writer. There is no doubt about that. In as much as there might be a lot of his critics, I am sured he is admired by many due to his way of writing and the way he translates his thought process on paper (or a computer based book or blog for that matter). I also admire his writing its style and content. He poses very cogent questions at times. But there is one thing about Sam Harris’s writing style that at times it appears that he swings his whole argument. He moves his discourse in a sort of a spiral and comes back to square one. One may really wonder at that instant on as to what is his point. That is why I believe that it is very important to re-read and to try to fully understand what he has really written and implied. Pun not intended! 3) Sometimes we can be shallow readers. Our not too good reading comprehensions, short attention spans, lack of focus, time varying interest, and dwindling energy can actually play a role in us missing the whole point altogether in an otherwise such an engaging and lengthy discourse. 

However, reflections has been written by Daniel C. Dennett and not by Sam Harris. And this one is actually not very confusing. In reality it really demystifies many of the conceptual caveats one may have about the subject of Free Will (while possibly creating others in the form of various esoteric thought experiments or whatever). So the point number 2 (among the 3) listed in the above paragraph might not really hold true in this case. However, since reflections on free will is actually a reflection of the work of Sam Harris, point 2 might begin to hold true to some extent for this book as well.
So what is reflections really all about. Reflections refutes the argument of Sam Harris that free will is an illusion. What Daniel argues about is that we human beings really have free will. This is the whole idea of this book. However, I was interested in understanding the subject in a bit more detail and on a deeper level. I was interested in understanding if there is something really deep about the subject of free will. And indeed there are a few really deep things about the subject of free will. I shall point out three things here that I came across in the book for the purpose of brevity. The real purpose in writing this (sort of a) summary is to create a stub about the subject so that I can revisit it latter at some stage for my own perusal, at least. In what follows, I am trying to write my concerns from memory. The reason for this is that I am already trying trying to struggle with other distractions as I am writing this.
The first thing I have noticed and I find worth commenting and contemplating about has something to do with the mention of immaterial souls. In the start of reflections, Daniel tries to defend the position of Sam Harris by somewhat suggesting that when he asserts that human do not have free will, his theory applies to our immaterial souls. And since we do not have immaterial souls (and since we are just lumps of biochemicals), the theory does not apply to us. This is what I have inferred at least. I admit that I could be wrong. My understanding could be flawed. Specially since I am writing this from memory and I do not have the draft of reflections opened in front of me. My concern is that irrespective of the fact that we have immaterial souls or not, what would be the repercussions of applying a similar scrutiny that whether we have free will or not if we actually had immaterial souls.

The second aspect about the book is the spectrum of various positions we can assume between free will and determinism. I have still not really understood the deep meanings of various positions such as combatilism, incombatilism etc. I do understand that combatilism implies that determinism and free will are compatible; both of them can exist (I wonder if exist is the right word) at the same time. Incombatilism is the converse. It means if free will can happen, determinism is false and vice versa. The problem is that it is really important to deeply understand these notions.

The third is the understanding of free will. The position Sam assumes is that free will is an illusion. That I have decided to read about free will. That I may have wondered at some stage on as to what it really means to have free will. That I eventually managed to find some thinkable reading material on it. Eventually I am writing about free will now. According to Sam’s framework, I was not really free in choosing to come up to this point. According to Sam, there must have happened events in my life that were beyond my control that may have urged, motivated or influenced me to do all of this. For instance, I may have been impressed by philosophy at some stage. And at some stage prior to that I may have been told that philosophy was an enterprise worth getting impressed about. Daniel has argued that this does not imply that we do not have free will.

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