The Moral Landscape

The Moral Landscape

How Science Can Determine Human Values

Book - 2010 | 1st Free Press hardcover ed.
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S am Harris's 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 nonbelieving 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 more devout neighbors.

In 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 possible.

Bringing 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 morality.

Using 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.
Publisher: New York ; Toronto : Free Press, 2010.
Edition: 1st Free Press hardcover ed.
ISBN: 9781439171219
Branch Call Number: 171.2 Har 9254mv 1
171.2 Har 9254tc 1
171.2 Har 9254mm 1
Characteristics: 291 p.


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Oct 10, 2015

Sam Harris is one of my favorite people with to disagree.

I have spent a little time this morning attempting to read Sam Harris' book "The Moral Landscape" and am at an impasse. It is the same impasse I reach with people like Michael Shermer when debating things like GMO crops. Shermer is convinced that the only valid objection to GMO crops is and must be "Do they hurt people who eat them? Are they less healthy for human consumption?" and dismisses anyone who has objections to GMOs by convincingly arguing that his two chosen objections are invalid. Objections such as how intellectual copyright laws change the dynamic for subsistence farmers in the third world, or how pesticide resistant crops are exacerbating the rise of pesticide resistant weeds and insect pests, or other non-human health based concerns are ignored. I have a similar issued with the underpinnings of Sam Harris' premises for the Moral Landscape. I think the subject and the premise of Harris' book is very interesting, but thus far I feel he has squandered it. Harris' assertions seem to me to be similar to a man who wins the lottery and uses his millions to buy the world's largest stuffed shark collection. Yes, money can buy stuffed sharks. Certainly, purchasing things is a valid use for money. Do I think that this is the best use of that money, or returning to Harris's book, that idea? No, I don't.

Harris asserts, unless I misunderstand, that human well being and the minimizing of suffering of conscious beings should be the underpinning of objective morality. Now, I don't want to suggest that morality should ignore well being and the minimizing of suffering, but I would dispute the idea that well being sits at the center of morality. Well-being is like gas mileage. A well run car will get good gas mileage, but good gas mileage won't get you to Cleveland if you have no wheels. And further, you won't any gas mileage without a working engine, solid axles, etcetera.

So if I disagree with Harris that well being underpins all morality, then what do I think does underpin morality- objectively using science (because I agree with Harris that Science should be able to help us determine objective morality)? Well to digress for a moment, I should ask you what other species behave in moral ways? Cats are notoriously amoral and learn rules and social cues much slower than dogs. Why is this? Cats are solitary predators in the wild with a few exceptions such as lions and hyenas is we are expanding our definition to include a feliformes. Dogs are social predators and groups cooperation is necessary for survival of the pack and survival of the pack is necessary for survival of the individual (in most cases). As such, while I agree with Harris that morality is something objectively knowable, I do not agree with his idea that well being is the key. Now I suspect and anticipate that Harris will, as I continue reading, delve in and elaborate on the idea that he means 'the greater good', that is the highest wellbeing for the most number of people (or conscious beings to use his phrase), and that gets closer to my own idea, but I would like to pause here with a quote from Ursula Vernon, speaking in her work "Digger" through the character of Ed "Fair? Tribe is not concerned with fair! Tribe must work!" And that in a nutshell is my divergence with Harris.

My issue thus far with Harris is that he has found a wonderful telescope and pointed it down rather than up, whereas Harris' other critics seem to object to Harris finding a telescope at all.

Jan 16, 2014

I am not an atheist, but wondered what this atheist had to say. After taking the time to plow through it (and having to put up with the usual inaccurate religious bashing comments), I found nothing to indicate that science will ever replace morals, morality, or such. To do that would be removing free will. Think robots and borgs. If not, think about Nazi Germany for a moment how that came about and the concequences. What Harris seems to have missed is that what we still have besides religious morals along the line of what he is talking about is LAW: federal law, municipal law, provincial law, civil law, criminal law and so on. The last time I looked it is very much in place.

Jun 15, 2013

Very good argument, but didn't impress me as much as some of his other writing has. The argument itself is great! The delivery, to me, seemed a bit lackluster. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it.

Dec 10, 2012

“The good life is one inspired by love and guided by knowledge.” from “Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays” 1957 by Lord Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, 1872-1970

Jul 11, 2011

A difficult read made more enjoyable by the sharp, witty and frequently snarky rebukes to religious zealots and the 'namby-pamby' apologists in the scientific community.

roaddogg09 May 05, 2011

'The Moral Landscape' is a wonderful book! It shines light on how science can help us determine how we should live our lives. Harris makes a compelling case that there are many different ways to be happy, but that there are some ways that do not make for positive human flourishing. He says that like the definition of health, the definition of what good changes, but that does not mean we don't have an objective way of evaluating claims of human happiness, the same that we know what constitutes bad health.

Harris, through reasoned arguments, shows us that many of the hinderences of a science of morality are brought about through general ignorance not thinking through the issues at hand.

Sam's book should be read by any thinking person, and especially by those who think morality cannot be derived without religious undertones. Harris' views give new light to old philosophical issues, and I for one am glad for it.

Nov 06, 2010

I doubt that rational arguments, regardless of their strength, can change the beliefs of those faithful to their religion; seems like a pointless discussion to me.

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