Over here, Tom Clark has a review of The Moral Landscape cum discussion of libertarian free will. I expect to return to this in the next few days. For now, here's a large sample (with material in bold quoted from Harris):
Harris rightly and crucially points out that there are viable conceptions of moral responsibility and moral judgment that survive the death of the little god. Wrongful acts are still wrong and condemnable in a world where their perpetrators are fully caused, and we are justified in holding perpetrators responsible since doing so is essential for an ordered society. But this essentially consequentialist notion of responsibility has major implications since it calls into question what Harris calls “the logic of retribution.” As he puts it:
Clearly, we need to build prisons for people who are intent on harming others. But if we could incarcerate earthquakes and hurricanes for their crimes, we would build prisons for them as well. The men and women on death row have some combination of bad genes, bad parents, bad ideas and bad luck – which of these quantities, exactly, were they responsible for? No human being stands as author to his own genes or own upbringing, and yet we have every reason to believe that these factors determine his character throughout his life. Our system of justice should reflect our understanding that each of us could have been dealt a very different hand in life…The urge for retribution…seems to depend upon our not seeing the underlying causes of human behavior. (109)
Harris also makes a broader point, connecting a naturalistic understanding of ourselves to compassion:
Despite our attachment to the notion of free will, most of us know that disorders of the brain can trump the best intentions of the mind. This shift in understanding represents progress toward a deeper, more consistent, and more compassionate view of our common humanity – and we should note that this is progress away from religious metaphysics. It seems to me that few concepts have offered greater scope for human cruelty than the idea of an immortal soul that stands independent of all material influences, ranging from genes to economic systems. (110)
Harris acknowledges the strength of the retributive impulse – a natural endowment present in all of us to greater or lesser extent – and speculates about how it can best be managed in a future culture, one fully cognizant of the causes and cures of evil. Might we continue to punish perpetrators simply to satisfy the thirst for retribution? From a humanitarian standpoint let’s hope not, since once that thirst no longer serves its original social function, now taken over by prevention and rehabilitation, its satisfaction simply imposes unnecessary suffering. Harris again: “…it seems quite clear that the retributive impulse, based on the idea that each person is the free author of his thoughts and actions, rests on a cognitive and emotional illusion, and perpetuates a moral one.”
I'm on board with both Harris and Clark that the kind of free will that they're talking about doesn't exist. I'm also on board with the claim that this doesn't eliminate responsibility for our actions, though it may require that we nail down what "responsibility" really means. I'm not sure we really know what we're talking about when we use the word unreflectively, and it may not be straighforward to get to a considered understanding of it while also (at least approximately) tracking what work the word does in our ordinary discourse. Still, to adapt some phrasing from Dan Dennett, a sort of responsibility that is compatible with our being the products of natural forces, traceable beyond our wills, may be the only responsibility worth having.
I sometimes think that Clark overreaches a li'l in his views about the social and political implications of all this, but that's for another day. As I say, I'll return to it. Meanwhile have a look at his review and at the whole site of Naturalism.Org, which is well worth keeping up with if you're interested in such issues.