Saturday, April 21, 2012

Brief Reflection On Sam Harris

I ended my last post by saying that I hope Dennett declines Sam Harris' invitation to publicly discuss free will with him.  That might not seem very fair or friendly.  Why shouldn't I want to see Dennett and Harris discuss free will publicly?

The reason is this:  Harris has not shown that he can treat well-tread philosophical subject matter fairly and authoritatively.  He has only begun a career in neuroscience, and has yet to distinguish himself as anything other than a popular writer and speaker on matters related to atheism.  His abilities to write and speak are certainly praiseworthy, but they do not earn him the stature of a great intellect.  Furthermore, his reasoning on philosophical topics is highly suspect, often problematic, occasionally incoherent, and overtly Buddhist (in an irrational and self-contradictory way, which is perhaps the norm for Buddhism in general, but shouldn't make Harris very comfortable).  Harris is not an authority on whatever topic he happens to have an opinion on, and it is a cult of personality which gives the impression otherwise.  To put Harris on stage with Dennett in a discussion of free will would only feed that cult of personality and quite possibly harm the discourse on free will in the process.

If Harris made his essay on free will freely available, I'd be happy to read it, or try to, at least, but I'm not interested in paying for it.  His own freely available thoughts on the topic are not impressive, and the reviews of the book I've found do nothing to change my mind.  Here are a couple reviews I found most interesting:  one by Chris Hallquist (with an interesting comment by Daniel Engblom) and another by Juno Walker.  And here's a relevant and rather incisive piece by Eddy Nahmias.  (Note:  While I think the Walker review is interesting, that's not because I find all of it persuasive.  I am mostly interested in how Walker exposes Harris' inconsistency, especially with respect to his treatment of compatibilism.)