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The Self-Contradictions of Sam Harris

The Self-Contradictions of Sam Harris October 6, 2015

In his TLS review of Sam Harris’s Waking Up, John Cottingham summarizes Harris’s worldview: “a reality where there are no true substances and there is ultimately nothing but an impersonal flux of conditions that arise and pass away.”

Harris is opposed to religion but in favor of spirituality, and offers spiritual experience as evidence of his metaphysics. Once he does this, though, “Harris has left himself no justification for dismissing those countless theists, whose own spiritual experience has, by contrast, seemed to them to disclose the nature of reality as deeply and ultimately personal.”

Harris cannot account for the form his own book takes: “Empirical evidence is also supposed by Harris to show that our sense of ourselves as unitary subjects of experience is an illusion,” yet none of his evidence “shows that it is a philosophical or scientific mistake for you or me to think of ourselves as genuine subjects of experience enduring through time.” Cottingham observes that “the personal narrative Harris himself provides in the course of the book about his own early life, and how his distinctive philosophical and spiritual outlook matured though the years, seems at every point implicitly to run counter to the official ‘no-self’ view he proclaims.” Sam Harris lacks a worldview that can account for Sam Harris.

Cottingham is too polite to call all this contradiction. But that is what it is. 

(Photo by Steve Jurvetson.)


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