Condoning Criminality: Sam Harris’ Warped Determinism – The Socjourn

“The men and women on death row have some combination of bad genes, bad parents, bad environments, and bad ideas (and the innocent, of course, have supremely bad luck). Which of these quantities, exactly, were they responsible for? No human being is responsible for his genes OR HIS UPBRINGING [emphasis added], yet we have every reason to believe that these factors determine his character. Our system of justice should reflect an understanding that any of us could have been dealt a very different hand in life. In fact, it seems immoral not to recognize just how much luck is involved in morality itself.” (Harris, 2012, p. 54).

If anything, this article has “warped” the point Sam Harris makes. Even in an indeterminate world, there can be no free will. Quantum physics allowing some randomness in your brain is just determinism with a flip of a coin. There is no “creative control”.

I understand it sounds depressing at first. But Harris (2012) goes on to say “…it is wise to hold people responsible for their actions when doing so influences their behavior and brings benefit to society. But this does not mean that we must be taken in by the illusion of free will. We need only acknowledge that efforts matter and that people can change. We do not change ourselves, precisely— because we have only ourselves with which to do the changing—but we continually influence, and are influenced by, the world around us and the world within us.” (p. 62).

Of course we still need punishment and to lock up bad people. Sam Harris does not deny this and therefore he is not “Condoning Criminality”. The take away message we gain from the understanding that free will is an illusion is the importance of good parenting, social support, rehabilitation and social systems. What may turn a criminal’s life around is the positive support of others. And a better understanding promotes the importance of preventing negative influences. We will never see past the illusion, but understanding it can go far in improving the world we live in.