Richard Oerton condemns the illusion of free will as harmful in his second book investigating the false belief

Richard Oerton presents a strong case for his assertion that belief of free will is destructive, fostering incomprehension and cruelty.

Criminals do not create their own criminality but – like the rest of us – are the products of a process in which their biological inheritances interact with their environmental experiences to make them the people they are.  And they behave as they do because they are the people they are.

The erroneous belief that they have something called “free will” leads to the idea that they are “morally responsible” and so deserving of retributive punishment. In this way the punishment of “wickedness” has come to be prized above the remedial measures which, if wholeheartedly adopted, would go to reduce crime. 

And legislators’ continuing attempts to make the criminal law keep pace with scientific advances, while still preserving the idea of the free will on which the criminal justice system rests, have already led to hair-splitting distinctions about states of mind (particularly in the law of homicide) and will prove ultimately to be unsustainable.

Richard Oerton, already the author of The Nonsense of Free Will, has now produced a sequel: The Cruelty of Free Will . It recapitulates the case against free will (so that it is self-contained) and then picks up where his earlier book left off by addressing two primary questions: why – and how – does free will belief persist so stubbornly? “Free will has always seemed to me a nonsensical idea,” explains Richard. “The view is shared by some philosophers and neuroscientists, but I wanted to put it across in a way that will appeal to the general reader.”

Following the success of his first book, described by New York Times bestselling author Sam Harris as ‘a wonderfully clear – and very clever – little book’, Richard presents a strong case for his assertion that belief of free will is destructive, fostering incomprehension and cruelty. He adds, “The belief persists because it seems to justify our urge to blame and to inflict suffering, but we close our eyes to the fact that we are all the products of biological and environmental luck for which none of us deserves to be blamed.”

Copies of Richard's illuminating new book The Cruelty of Free Will  are available from Matador upon request.

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Alice Graham

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