[[ Free eBook ]] The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values Author Sam Harris – Andy-palmer.co.uk

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values Sam Harris first book, The End of Faith, ignited a worldwide debate about the validity of religion In the aftermath, Harris discovered that most people from religious fundamentalists to non believing scientists agree on one point science has nothing to say on the subject of human values Indeed, our failure to address questions of meaning and morality through science has now become the most common justification for religious faith It is also the primary reason why so many secularists and religious moderates feel obligated to respect the hardened superstitions of their devout neighborsIn this explosive new book, Sam Harris tears down the wall between scientific facts and human values, arguing that most people are simply mistaken about the relationship between morality and the rest of human knowledge Harris urges us to think about morality in terms of human and animal well being, viewing the experiences of conscious creatures as peaks and valleys on a moral landscape Because there are definite facts to be known about where we fall on this landscape, Harris foresees a time when science will no longer limit itself to merely describing what people do in the name of morality in principle, science should be able to tell us what we ought to do to live the best lives possibleBringing a fresh perspective to age old questions of right and wrong and good and evil, Harris demonstrates that we already know enough about the human brain and its relationship to events in the world to say that there are right and wrong answers to the most pressing questions of human life Because such answers exist, moral relativism is simply false and comes at increasing cost to humanity And the intrusions of religion into the sphere of human values can be finally repelled for just as there is no such thing as Christian physics or Muslim algebra, there can be no Christian or Muslim moralityUsing his expertise in philosophy and neuroscience, along with his experience on the front lines of our culture wars, Harris delivers a game changing book about the future of science and about the real basis of human cooperation


10 thoughts on “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

  1. says:

    Why am I sitting here reviewing another Sam Harris book People keep telling me that I have to have to have to read them, and they seem to generally be what s called in military jargon target rich environments Harris sets out to hunt two of his bugbears Moral relativism and fundamentalist forms of religion, the former being equated with the political left and the latter with the right These seem to be the only moral political systems that exist in his world beside the one he goes on to promo Why am I sitting here reviewing another Sam Harris book People keep telling me that I have to have to have to read them, and they seem to generally be what s called in military jargon target rich environments Harris sets out to hunt two of his bugbears Moral relativism and fundamentalist forms of religion, the former being equated with the political left and the latter with the right These seem to be the only moral political systems that exist in his world beside the one he goes on to promote This, of course, leads Harris to ignore secular systems of thought on the right usually aligned with right libertarianism such as those propounded by Ayn Rand or Friedrich A von Hayek.Indeed, Harris blithely dismisses moral philosophy in a single footnote Maybe if he hadn t done so, he would have realized that there is a distinction between descriptive relativism and normative relativism, the former meaning simply that there are no objective moral facts as there are in the sense of scientific facts The latter position argues from the former that we ought to have no universal standard of morality Moral skeptics such as J.L Mackie and James R Flynn argue in favor of descriptive but not normative relativism Harris conflates the two and thus turns moral relativism into some kind of blanket apologia for female genital mutilation and other such horrors Also, as Russell Blackford noted in his review, Harris commits even further equivocation in blowing off Mackie in a footnote Harris engages in some rhetorical flailing against David Hume s is ought distinction, attempting to replace it with a Benthamite hedonic calculus which is to be computed using brain scanning technology Call it neuro utilitarianism, I guess In a truly odd argument, he goes on to use his own neuroscience experiments on religious belief to break down the fact value distinction, saying that beliefs and facts are equivalent because they are processed in the same fashion in the brain Well, I use my eyes and visual cortex to process both the sight of a hamburger and the Grand Canyon That doesn t mean I can eat a national landmark or go whitewater rafting through a beef product.All of this handwaving is claimed to be a solution to the is ought problem, one of if not the biggest problem in moral philosophy However, Harris backpedals in a few places as if his argument had failed, noting that science can never determine what we ultimately ought to do No argument there, but this makes his thinking come off as evenmuddled and inconsistent I m not aware of any serious arguments that science can never inform morals and ethics Formulated in this way If you want x, then do y, science can inform us about or determine the y, but cannot determine the x Hume himself also never claimed a total separation of facts and values he argued that a logical justification must be made before the ought can be derived from the is There is nothing new or controversial there, but it stands in contrast to the rest of the book in which Harris continuously promises a capital S Science of Morality Whatever it is, it definitely isn t science The rest of the book doesn t fare well either The reader is left wallowing in Harris sophistry for page after page as he tries to work out of the corner he s painted himself in Some parts verge on the downright scary as well, such as lie free zones that would be made by essentially using fMRI as lie detection technology Neuro fascism Harris also wastes some pages pushing a form of naive determinism again, free will and determinism being a topic which he seems to have even less of a handle on than moral and ethical philosophy.Islam pops up as a handy bogeyman again, and he favorably references the conspiratorial Bat Ye Or, a cranky pseudo scholar whose book Eurabia The Euro Arab Axis has re gained currency recently with therabidly Islamophobic set At least there are no cites to parapsychologists this time, at least none that I could find Harris also continues his feud with Scott Atran, claiming him to be another moral relativist apparently this is code for someone I, Sam Harris, disagree with and totally misrepresenting his arguments Atran s review of the book , if it can be called that, is really a continuation of this line argumentation, though it is a priceless evisceration of Harris ignorance of anthropological and psychological research on religion.The picture that Harris paints is a gross misrepresentation of moral philosophy and current politics, not to mention the fact that the book isor less the extension of the naturalistic fallacy to a few hundred pages Like his previous work, this is filled with smug dismissals of actual scholarship in the fields he s attempting to write in and play acting at revolutionary ideas The only positive I can find here is that it may introduce readers to somelucid thinkers and scientists doing original research on morality and psychology, such as Ant nio R Dam sio, Jonathan Haidt, and Joshua Greene Otherwise, chalk another one up for the annals of scientism and neo atheism


  2. says:

    The fact that millions of people use the term morality as a synonym for religious dogmatism, racism, sexism, or other failures of insight and compassion should not oblige us to merely accept their terminology until the end of timeSam Harris, The Moral LandscapeI ve avoided Sam Harris probably from a bit of prejudice Although I ve always enjoyed Christopher Hitchens, I ve thought others of the New Atheists a bit shrill I just assumed Sam Harris was going to behammer and less scalpThe fact that millions of people use the term morality as a synonym for religious dogmatism, racism, sexism, or other failures of insight and compassion should not oblige us to merely accept their terminology until the end of timeSam Harris, The Moral LandscapeI ve avoided Sam Harris probably from a bit of prejudice Although I ve always enjoyed Christopher Hitchens, I ve thought others of the New Atheists a bit shrill I just assumed Sam Harris was going to behammer and less scalpel I was wrong I really enjoyed this book While there is little doubt what Sam Harris feels about religion, his method here isan attempt to cut a third path through the wilderness between those educated liberals who think there is no universal foundation for human values AND the claim that a universal morality requires the support of faith based religion Obviously, being able to criticize religion plays a part of this effort, but Sam Harris in this book at least seemsinterested in pushing people to think that a scientific approach to morality is at least an important step I agree The idea that science has an important thing to say about values and morals is fundamental.Not done But done enough


  3. says:

    Harris s ideology is incomplete he admits this much himself But this book provides the groundwork for a slightly new way of conceiving of morality The general idea is not new, but his thesis is unique in that it identifies psychology and neuroscience as the tools by which to determine how our actions affect conscious beings And I think that Harris is thinking in the right direction though we can derive no moral absolutes, we can identify the morality of actions on a spectrum or land Harris s ideology is incomplete he admits this much himself But this book provides the groundwork for a slightly new way of conceiving of morality The general idea is not new, but his thesis is unique in that it identifies psychology and neuroscience as the tools by which to determine how our actions affect conscious beings And I think that Harris is thinking in the right direction though we can derive no moral absolutes, we can identify the morality of actions on a spectrum or landscape of happiness well being some actions clearly lead to greater total happiness and well being than others And the extent to which actions lead to happiness well being is something that psychology and neuroscience can indeed help evaluate Much work remains to be done in the realms of neuroscience and philosophy to complete the project Harris has put forth But I think it is a worthy project, as his is the best conception of morality I have seen yet


  4. says:

    As I read The Moral Landscape I wondered if Sam Harris would be good to have as a neighbor He is a strong believer in objective morality Many Christians believe that atheists are all terrible people with no morals Sam Harris shows that this stereotype is false though he would go a step further and say it is most Christians who have poor morals As a moral guy who cares about issues in the world, Sam Harris would be a good neighbor The problem is, I am a Christian For that reason, I fear As I read The Moral Landscape I wondered if Sam Harris would be good to have as a neighbor He is a strong believer in objective morality Many Christians believe that atheists are all terrible people with no morals Sam Harris shows that this stereotype is false though he would go a step further and say it is most Christians who have poor morals As a moral guy who cares about issues in the world, Sam Harris would be a good neighbor The problem is, I am a Christian For that reason, I fear Sam Harris would not like me I would hope that if we got together with our wives to play Settlers of Catan, or perhaps watched a football game does Penn State every play UCLA we could get along Could we disagree and still live in neighborly friendliness I have read all three of Sam Harris books and I am not confident that they would as he shows a deep and bitter anger towards Christians Not that I blame him for this, the hate mail he has received from people of faith has not done much to bring any sort of reconciliation In The Moral Landscape, Harris presents a strong argument for objective morality He opposes secular scientists and philosophers who argue that there are objective facts in science but when it comes to morality, objectivity is gone Harris sees this moral relativism as false Worse, he sees in it secularists conceding objective morality to people of faith His goal is to provide an argument for morality from a secular perspective Harris defines good as that which supports human well being Determining human well being rests mostly on the science of the brain, which Harris admits is still relatively new Thus his book is not a final argument for a specific morality Science is not at a place to do that yet Instead it is an argument that science does speak to issues of morality and over time will do soandAs a Christian I tried to come to this book as open minded as possible In other words, I expected to disagree much as an atheist expects to disagree when coming to a Christian text, we re none of us unbiased But I tried to give Harris a fair hearing I am sure there were some specific arguments I did not fully grasp, for I am not a trained scientist I suspect many of those arguments were in the chapter on belief chapter three , which I found to be the most interesting and insightful chapter in the book Overall, I still am a Christian and I still find arguments for morality from a naturalistic perspective wanting Harris argument seems to be a form of utilitarianism maximizing the good well being and minimizing the bad It is difficult to see how this can be measured, which I believe has been the main critique of utilitarianism over the years Besides that, if Harris is right that well being is the key, the question is whose well being Why should I care about the well being of others if it does not affect my own well being He reports an exchange he had with a scientist at a conference who said she has no issue with the Taliban s violence against women because that is just the way their culture is Harris was appalled at this But if I am happy, if my wife and kids are healthy and my life is comfortable, why should I care about these people on the other side of the world Perhaps Harris cares, and good for him But if I am an atheist, I only have this one life to live and then I am gone forever The Taliban is thousands of miles away and I do not want to bother with it I would rather enjoy my life The same basic question came up a few times as I read He seems to lament the fact thatpeople spend their time playing video games than working to help the homeless p 70 Again, if such people were lucky enough or worked hard enough to have a comfortable life, why not play video games Who is Harris or any of us to tell them they should live in a different way Of course, Harris whole project is to prove that science does provide such shoulds I just don t see it Likewise, he shares a story of his wife being hit on at the gym p 51 He was glad she resisted the flirting of this other man and he speaks of how an affair would damage the well being of his family I am glad for Harris that his wife is loyal But if she had chosen to cheat on himwhat if that increased her own and this other man s well being What if this man was a widower with four children Perhaps stealing Harris wife would hurt Harris daughter, but it could help these other four children Isn t thathuman well being My point is that judging morality in these ways is unsatisfying Further, if all that matters is human well being, why not envision a scenario from a movie like The Matrix where all humans are plugged into a computer If such an existence would make us happiest, why not Or as one reviewer says Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman studies what gives Americans pleasure watching TV, talking to friends, having sex and what makes them unhappy commuting, working, looking after their children Harris also rejects free will, while assuring us that this does not lead to determinism or fatalism 103 105 Reading his argument for this, I felt like I was reading John Calvin and Harris may be surprised to find that Calvin would agree with him in this assessment, though for different reasons Harris says we believe in free will because we are ignorant of the causes of our actions in each moment 105 He goes on to say But the fact that our choices depend on prior causes does not mean that they do not matter If I had not decided to write this book, it wouldn t have written itself My choice to write it was unquestionably the primary cause of its coming into being Decisions, intentions, efforts, goals, willpower, etc., are all causal states of the brain, leading to specific behaviors, and behaviors lead to outcomes in the world Human choice, therefore, is as important as fanciers of free will believe 105 There is a distinction between voluntary and involuntary actions, but it does nothing to support the common idea of free willthe former are associated with felt intentions desires, goals, expectations, etc while the latter are nota voluntary action is accompanied by the felt intention to carry it out, while an involuntary action isn t Where our intentions themselves come from, however, and what determines their character in every instant, remains perfectly mysterious in subjective termsthe freedom to do what one intends, and not to do otherwise, is no less valuable than it ever was 105 106 If there is no free will, then however the intentions, goals and such that arise in us, we are not responsible for them So how are we responsible for the actions they lead to in the world He goes on to say, What we condemn in another person is the intention to do harm 108 Why condemn something that this person has not freely chosen Why hold them responsible It seemsconsistent to say that we don t have free will and thus we are subject to whatever combination of natural desires made us who we are Harris did make a huge point that Christians should listen to 123 124 Here Harris talks of how the internet has reduced intellectual isolation but it has also allowed bad ideas to flourish He goes on to say that the less competent a person is in a given domain, thehe will overestimate his abilities, in other words ignorant people areconfident 123 He applies this to debates between science and religion When a scientist speaks with appropriate circumspection about controversies in his field, or about the limits of his own understanding, his opponent will often make wildly unjustified assertions about just which religious doctrines can be inserted into the space provided Thus, one often finds people with no scientific training speaking with apparent certainty about the theological implications of quantum mechanics, cosmology, or molecular biology 124 I have to say, I agree with Harris here Christians do no one any good when assuming that just because they are Christians, they are right about everything For example, Christians should have no problem admitting that Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris knowsabout science than they do unless said Christian has degrees in science But to turn this critique around on Harris, he often writes as if he possesses a better knowledge of Christian faith than Christians do He declares the Bible is in favor of slavery, quoting chapter and verse This sort of surface level understanding of the text seems to be the same surface level understanding he decries when Christians approach science Why not engage with the best Bible scholars Or at the very least, try to get inside the culture in which the Bible was written to try to understand if there isgoing on Would it matter to Harris that though the Bible allows slavery, it puts regulations on this slavery that put the slave in a much higher position than slaves in the surrounding culture Probably not, as the idea of progressive revelation does not seem to carry much weight for Harris Harris, like some other atheists, seem to say if God exists then God would do this says who At any rate, if he wants to be as fair to Christians as he expects people to be to scientists, he should recognize that proof texting is not valid biblical interpretation The same critique could be applied to history Harris rolls out the rhetoric that Christians in the middle ages burned witches on a regular basis But Rodney Stark has shown that witches were rarely burned in the middle ages, instead witch burning became most popular at the same time as modern science was beginning to rise see For the Glory of God How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, With Hunts and the End of Slavery This book has me wanting to readabout brain science, especially books that limit the tangents Harris seems to be writing for an audience that he knows will agree with him, so he throws out rhetoric and red herrings every now and then, to remind us how dumb religion is I am not sure what the point of the chapter on religion was chapter four other than just to smack around religion for a while In this I am sure Harris comes across as a hero to those who agree To me, it sounds like the same sort of arrogance that Harris hates when ignorant Christians discount the findings of science While I would like to readabout how the brain works, and I assume science will continue to shed light on this, I do not think it is possible to find morality or meaning, which is a separate question here Jerry Coyne in his book Why Evolution is True talks about how when a lion takes over a pride he will kill the baby lions to rid himself of the competition Of course, no person would say that lion was a murderer or was evil Yet when I listen to the History of Rome podcast and learn of how many emperors upon coming into power would kill their relatives or relatives of the previous emperor to solidify their power, I see this as murder What makes humans different If we are just animals, or if such murder increases the well being of the emperor and his empire, why is it wrong I still agree with Ivan Karamazov in the amazing novel, The Brothers Karamazov if there is no God, then all things are permissible If Harris is wrong and there is no objective morality from a secular view, it does not automatically mean there is a God Perhaps life just is meaningless That is what Ivan believed, and it angered him as this philosophy justified his father s disgusting life I think Ivan is right If there is no God then what reason can you really give a person to choose to help the poor rather than spend their days playing video games Online Reviewshttp bnreview.barnesandnoble.com t5http www.nytimes.com 2010 10 03 boohttp online.wsj.com article SB10001


  5. says:

    Oh my, where to startOkay, so I guess it would be helpful to disclose that I am a long time fan of Sam Harris Not only do I agree with most of his ideas, but I find him to be both an articulate and entertaining writer, always a plus The Moral Landscape is no exception.The motivation for this book seems to be the commonly held belief that religion, if it does nothing else, serves as the source for our morality It is one of the most common arguments Harris encounters in his campaign for reas Oh my, where to startOkay, so I guess it would be helpful to disclose that I am a long time fan of Sam Harris Not only do I agree with most of his ideas, but I find him to be both an articulate and entertaining writer, always a plus The Moral Landscape is no exception.The motivation for this book seems to be the commonly held belief that religion, if it does nothing else, serves as the source for our morality It is one of the most common arguments Harris encounters in his campaign for reason, which often finds itself pitted against religious institutions and their belief systems.According to Harris, religion has long been credited with providing humankind a morale code, a precept that many atheists are unwilling to challenge For, in some cases, even the greatest champions of science, rationality, and logic seem to feel that science has little to offer once we start talking morality and ethics.Harris, however, argues that this is just not the case Science, he claims, already has lots to say about morality and, with the continued progress in the neurosciences, will only haveto say in the coming years He further points out that what science has to offer is infinitely better than the world s many religions for a multitude of reasons I tend to agree and here s whyFor one, it is clear that as a rule and generally speaking there is a trend toward treating people better andhumanely in part because through science we have expanded our understanding of ourselves and the dynamics that exist in the societies that form the basis of our existence This is not to say we don t have a long way to gosimply that we have made progress in the right direction One needs only to look back into our not too distant past to see the barbaric behaviors that were once commonplace and considered justifiable So though many nostalgic grandmas and grandpas may not agree, over the years, we clearly have raised the moral bar on many levels Secondly, religion s especially today s most popular religions are not the source of our morality and never have been, otherwise we would still judge certain instances of rape, pillaging, infantcide, human sacrifice, and genocide to be completely moral Again, it is our evolving understanding of ourselves and our environment that shape our ideas about what is and what isn t moral in the various religious texts and not vice versa Further, asserting that religion establishes morality is self limiting in the sense that only one religion can be the true authority.Just because we don t currently have all the answers to all the complex moral questions that face usdoesn t mean that the answers don t exist It also doesn t mean that all the answers are equally valid and worthy of our respect In many cases, science offers a process by which various answers can be systematically evaluated As our level of understanding continues to grow, so will our moral sense continue to expand.Finally, if you accept that our beliefs and our actions are the complex result of our physiology, genetics, and past experiences then it would seem logical to believe that science will ultimately have lots to say about those beliefs and actions as well as their consequences for both the individual and for society Such information can and will serve as a foundation for making moral decisions, and or decisions that maximize the greatest good for the greatest number of people.In the end, I think Harris main point is that the understanding of ourselves, our world, and our universe provides the foundation for our moral reasoning and as such, science not only has, but also will continue to contribute to our understanding of the moral landscape.Harris gives concrete examples of the many ways in which science has already helped to shape and mold our contemporary moral code.For example, consider the following A man kills his girlfriend.A man kills his girlfriend after finding her in bed with her lover.A man kills his girlfriend Later, doctors find a tumor in an area of his brain that is associated with impulse control A man who was severely abused by his mother as a child kills his girlfriend.We view each case differently with respect to morality in part because we have a better understanding of the brain and behavior than we did two hundred years ago.But this represents a small fraction of what is discussed in the book, and I really can t even begin to do it justice, so I won t try As always, Harris is a champion of reason and doesn t sugar coat his contempt for any dogmatic institution that discourages critical thinking, including religion He also stresses the innate dangers of treating all ideas as being equally valid and deserving of our tolerance and respect, especially when it comes to morality He also tries to bridge the gap between philosophy, which must take into consideration what we don t know, and science, that which is focused on our current knownsthough continually expanding its borders.Bottom line, if you ve ever contemplated the complex issues that face us all, not simply as individuals but as a society, and ultimately as human beings, then this book is worth reading if only for the points being raised and ideas being explored Further, if like me, you believe that religion isn t the basis for morality, than this book will help you to explore that idea in greater depths Harris most definitely writes to the average person a plus in my mind , which often garners him criticism within certain circles, but for all the wrong reasonsand thank goodness that he does


  6. says:

    I thought I would have few problems with this book There s little to no reason where I d be annoyed by a book where I agree with the fundamental, underlying principles of the work I fully believe that it s possible to scientifically determine moral values And look It s a book about scientifically determining moral values We should get along famously.Except that s not what ended up happening.Instead I found myself getting progressivelyandannoyed by the general tone of the entire I thought I would have few problems with this book There s little to no reason where I d be annoyed by a book where I agree with the fundamental, underlying principles of the work I fully believe that it s possible to scientifically determine moral values And look It s a book about scientifically determining moral values We should get along famously.Except that s not what ended up happening.Instead I found myself getting progressivelyandannoyed by the general tone of the entire book I found myself arguing against what Sam Harris was saying, even when I agreed with him He has such an insufferable, condescending way of putting things that I didn t want to agree with him And if that s how I reacted, I can t imagine how much he d put off people who already disagreed with him He hasn t really mastered the persuasive part of the persuasive essay.Then there s the fact that by the end, he had strayed so far from the point that I had completely lost interest in what he was talking about It had devolved into an attack on attempts to reconcile rational scientific thought with religious beliefs and faith Which wasn t really the point of the book or, at least, I didn t think that was the point I picked up the book so I could learn how science can determine human values , not look at a vomited up pile of Sam Harris s bile.While I appreciate that he seems to consider himself the lone voice of reason in an increasingly insane world, the man needs to actually talk to people and not rant at them in a thinly veiled attack on his critics


  7. says:

    Given that nearly everyone who reads this book will disagree vehemently with its conclusions, and given that the subject matter is almost entirely theoretical, Moral Landscape needed to have beenthoroughly researched andscholarly in its presentation in order to achieve Harris goals I d originally given the book five stars because, in my opinion, Harris central points are intriguing and probably correct, but on further reflection I ve had to scale my enthusiasm back.Those who disag Given that nearly everyone who reads this book will disagree vehemently with its conclusions, and given that the subject matter is almost entirely theoretical, Moral Landscape needed to have beenthoroughly researched andscholarly in its presentation in order to achieve Harris goals I d originally given the book five stars because, in my opinion, Harris central points are intriguing and probably correct, but on further reflection I ve had to scale my enthusiasm back.Those who disagree with Moral Landscape s conclusion that reason can guide us to objectively true or false answers to questions of ethics will almost certainly do so for one or both of two reasons They argue per Hume that an ought can t be derived from an is Reason may tell us how to achieve our aims after we ve decided what they are, but it s incapable of guiding us to those aims in the first place Morality is therefore intrinsically subjective They believe that morality by definition originates with God Since God establishes the absolute, universal standard, morality is fundamentally objective, but the standard can be obtained only through revelation, never by reason.The problem with the idea of morality deriving from God is that a thing is good either because God has decreed it so, or God has decreed it so because that thing is good In the former case we would be living under a cosmic dictatorship, whereas in the latter we would find that God, in deferring to a definition of good that exists externally to divine judgment, would be superfluous As is usually the case with theistic dogma, there s neither objective evidence nor sound logic to support the claim that ethics depends upon God, but if believers choose to regard it as axiomatic, there s also no way to refute it, so that s pretty much that Theologians sometimes try to get around that dilemma by arguing that God s nature is somehow ineluctably woven together with goodness But if good is defined merely as concordance with God s will then it s tautologically trivial for God to be good If good is defined in terms of happiness and suffering then good can have no intrinsic meaning for an omnipotent, perfect, eternal and solitary being it can only be meaningful with respect to the interactions of minds capable of harming one another The is ought problem is theinteresting of the two objections Harris does acknowledge that ethics must be built on postulates that are by definition unprovable, and in this sense, it s true that morality can never be absolutely objective He argues however, that the same could be said of any such system there s no reason to consider ethics to be uniquely indeterminate Physics, for instance, is grounded upon unprovable values We can t actually prove that acquiring knowledge through reason and evidence is better than obtaining it from authority and revelation to be a rational skeptic is to accept that axiomatically, and to implicitly reaffirm it at every step in our conversations Even if one chooses to argue for example that reason and evidence are superior because they provide tangible and consistent results, we still must believe, axiomatically and without proof, that tangible and consistent results are things of value And yet, the necessity for reason to lift itself by its own bootstraps in this way, does not prevent us from asserting that physical laws are objectively true.In other words, the book s major insight and a point that I think its critics tend to overlook , is that the foundations of ethics are noarbitrary than the foundations of any other field of understanding If the physical sciences can be built upon a foundation of unprovable values, why can t there be a science of ethics that does so as well Even if we accept that an ought can t be derived from an is, what should prevent us from defining our oughts to be is s, i.e., to place our oughts among the axiomatic is s of our moral philosophy Moral Landscape, in my opinion, stands or falls on whether or not it can convince the reader of this idea Landscape s second interesting point is that the least arbitrary way to establish our oughts is to base them on the well being of conscious creatures Harris argues that anything that is of interest, is interesting precisely because of its effect upon some entity s conscious state Whatever it is that anyone values, the value of the thing is ultimately grounded in the emotional, subjective mental state of at least one consciousness If there were any particular thing that could not, under any possible circumstances, ever have an effect upon any conscious creature, then that thing would have no value whatsoever In a universe completely devoid of any consciousness, the concepts of good and evil could have no meaning If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there anywhere to hear it, does it make a sound difference As an aside, Harris argues that there must be a natural hierarchy of importance among conscious creatures, that is, that a mind with the capacity to experience greater ranges of thought and feeling must be considered to bevaluable than a lesser mind Thus, chimpanzees areimportant than mice, human beings areimportant than chimpanzees, and in theory, there could be superior intelligences extraterrestrial or artificial, perhaps that would bevaluable than humans If the hierarchy continues indefinitely then wouldn t that open the door to the possibility that there could be an infinite consciousness that might be ethicallyimportant than the combined collective yet still finite consciousnesses of every other living being in the entire universe There could also be multiple infinite consciousnesses if so, would the moral value of infinite consciousnesses be ranked by their cardinalities On the other hand, is it possible that there s some threshold of awareness or cognitive ability beyond which all conscious creatures could be considered to be of equal importance Having demonstrated as the reader may or may not accept that it should be possible in principle to create a hard science of objective ethics, Harris makes little effort to raise or respond to potential objections to his ideas, nor to suggest ways in which we might go about discovering that new ethics, beyond expressing his to be fair, well founded confidence that neuroscience will play a major roll Those hoping for greater depth will be disappointed, and may wonder if there s anythinguseful here than a theoretical refutation of moral relativism a philosophy which is already easily dismissed for being self refuting


  8. says:

    This is my first Sam Harris book, and I m glad I finally started reading him I have been familiar with his public appearances, debates and ideas for some time now, but I had not yet found the books of his that I was interested in Most of the public work that I was aware of was his fight against religion, along side Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and so on Even though he is one of the New Scientists, I ve always felt something is special about him, because he seems to consistently be the youngest This is my first Sam Harris book, and I m glad I finally started reading him I have been familiar with his public appearances, debates and ideas for some time now, but I had not yet found the books of his that I was interested in Most of the public work that I was aware of was his fight against religion, along side Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and so on Even though he is one of the New Scientists, I ve always felt something is special about him, because he seems to consistently be the youngest and by that I mean almost 50 in all of the debates he has, which tells me a lot about his capabilities as an intellectual powerhouse This work is his attempt to define what he calls a moral landscape , a view of the highs and lows existent in human morality, to answer the question of why morals are important and how they find a place in diverse scientific fields, especially from his own point of view neuroscience I have read some of his research before, and especially his work on belief and how it correlates with brain function, and it is fascinating I truly recommend him as an author, his research to anyone interested in the scienc y parts, and this book as I am sure, the others I ll read from him , because we never have the right to say we know enough about an opinion, even if it is one that we hold to be true in our hearts


  9. says:

    This book starts out rather slow, with a heavy dose of philosophy It does pick up after the first couple of chapters, as the book shows how the mind treats facts and values in a similar manner The author shows that the goal of morality should be to maximize the well being of as many individuals as possible, in the present life not the after life, which is not verified by objective evidence While it is not always obvious what constitutes well being it can be a very gray area , it is cle This book starts out rather slow, with a heavy dose of philosophy It does pick up after the first couple of chapters, as the book shows how the mind treats facts and values in a similar manner The author shows that the goal of morality should be to maximize the well being of as many individuals as possible, in the present life not the after life, which is not verified by objective evidence While it is not always obvious what constitutes well being it can be a very gray area , it is clear that mutilation, slavery, murder, and the like are not conducive to well being The book clearly demonstrates why science has just as important things to say about morality as religion and in certain respects, science isjustified The author shows that science and religion are truly contradictory in many respects In fact, though many scientists try to use scientific arguments to relieve the contradictions, their predisposal toward religion displays an inherent bias As a result, they are not using the scientific method they are simply arguing from emotion and faith, rather than reason


  10. says:

    I ve had a good go at reading this without any knee jerk reactions, but generally I find Harris views instinctively abhorrent despite his championing of reason and science, I don t think he avoids knee jerk reactionsthan anyone else Particularly when it comes to religion.The basis thesis that there are optimal states of well being for humans, I accept That science will be able to improve our understanding of that, I don t doubt That Sam Harris could be the person that executes this I ve had a good go at reading this without any knee jerk reactions, but generally I find Harris views instinctively abhorrent despite his championing of reason and science, I don t think he avoids knee jerk reactionsthan anyone else Particularly when it comes to religion.The basis thesis that there are optimal states of well being for humans, I accept That science will be able to improve our understanding of that, I don t doubt That Sam Harris could be the person that executes this moral calculus That, I can t countenance It s partly an instinctive dislike I haven t enjoyed any of his lectures and talks that I ve watched either and partly his intolerance of anything he doesn t understand.I mean, he claims to be talking about universal states of well being, and states that there may be multiple peaks on the moral landscape where the greatest possible well being can be achieved In almost the same breath, he dismisses any thought system he can t understand, particularly if it involves religion.Perhaps the fact that I m a Unitarian Universalist makes this so difficult to swallow I believe that there are many different paths to follow, whether you re looking for an afterlife, Enlightenment, reincarnation There are different ways to be good, and it s hard to measure that For example, we would accept a person who works with abused children in Britain, who kept their good as their first priority, as a good person We would also accept a person who teaches children who are living in poverty in another country as good Which is better Whichworthy I m not sure I m being very coherent about this I m sure there s someone waiting to jump on me telling me that Harris is completely coherent, entirely reasonable, etc most likely some of them will have some sexist comments to make, without being aware of their own hypocrisy For me, though, I didn t find Harris argument that coherent He seemed to argue himself round and round a tiny point without ever looking up to see the wider world and put his work in context every statement seemed to be a reiteration of his core thesis, rather than something which expanded it


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