Making Sense of Encounters With Violence

Episode 4 of The Essential Sam Harris

Episode Companion

Each episode includes a workbook with illustrations, background information on each guest, references, suggested books and films, and more.

January 26, 2023

This episode centers around the specter of violence and surfaces some of Sam’s most controversial positions and difficult conversations.

We begin with author and former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss, who delivers some potentially life-saving aspects of “tactical empathy,” which can also be applied to less extreme circumstances. Author and security expert Gavin de Becker then lays out his thesis from The Gift of Fear, which recasts this unfairly maligned emotion as an important attention-demanding, evolved signal.

We then spend time with Sam’s position on “profiling” and the moral and political complexities woven into it. This careful consideration leads to a conversation with author and firearms instructor Scotty Reitz, as they paint a stark picture of certain extremes of violence and consider what responsible gun ownership might look like.

Sam then answers questions directly on his often criticized and often misunderstood position on gun ownership before we turn to author and former Navy Seal Jocko Willink to apply pressure on the philosophical stance of pacifism. We conclude with the philosopher Tamler Sommers, who ponders the idea of “honor” in society and inspects how third-party delegation of violence might generate an illusive sense of justice.


About the Series

Filmmaker Jay Shapiro has produced The Essential Sam Harris, a new series of audio documentaries exploring the major topics that Sam has focused on over the course of his career.

Each episode weaves together original analysis, critical perspective, and novel thought experiments with some of the most compelling exchanges from the Making Sense archive. Whether you are new to a particular topic, or think you have your mind made up about it, we think you’ll find this series fascinating.