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Harris, free will, and scientific incoherence

January 19th, 2007 · No Comments

Sam Harris’ End of Faith is such a curious hybrid. Scientism, a bit of Buddhism, a mishmash of post-analytic philosophy, a washed out discussion of ethics … This is no way to challenge religion.
The principle difficulty is that, despite the surface eloquence about the problems with religion, what is provided as a substitute is inadequate for those ejecting from belief bondage.
A good example is the dishwater treatment of the subject of ethics. Given the context of assumptions Harris works in this problem is inevitable. Check out the discussion starting p. 272 in the footnotes. Harris declares against free will in proper submission to the tenets of scientism. Then why bother will discussing ethics at all?

The question of free will is the acid test for those who promote scientific culture. And yet they can’t even grasp that there is a difficulty.
This is not a demand for a dogma about free will, and yet it is hard to see how the truncated positivistic dismissal by Harris can amount to anything.
In any case, the interesting thing is that Harris declares the idea of free will to be incoherent. I think the incoherence is that created by scientific reductionism. Is there anything more incoherent than the current scientific dogmatism about what science is?
In fact, what is curious is that this statement of incoherence is really a restatement of one half of Kant’s Third Antinomy, with its classic attempt to formulate a response to the incoherence of Newtonian physics rising to dominate all knowledge.

So Harris is really reflecting the incoherence being generated by science itself as it reflects with precision the analysis of the antinomy of reason analyzed in the critiques of Kant.
So at least Harris leaves you at the threshold of the ‘critique of reason’.

Tags: Philosophy · Science & Religion

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