27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bold new take on universal morality
Make no mistake about it, this book is an ambitious book. Harris challenges the long-held assertion that morals are for religion and culture, outside of the realm of science. In other words, science can reveal the way we behave, and why (in fact, evolutionary psychology and related disciplines are doing just that), but it can't tell us how we SHOULD behave. Harris...
Published on Oct. 6 2010 by A. Volk
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking but not an answer to much
I read this book in a single night due to a particularly vicious episode of insomnia. Admittedly, this is probably not the best frame of mind to read a book as complicated as this but I was still able to read it from cover to cover without getting too terribly lost. My final conclusion after the first reading is that the book was thought provoking enough to warrant a...
Published on Jan. 5 2011 by C. J. Thompson
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bold new take on universal morality,
Make no mistake about it, this book is an ambitious book. Harris challenges the long-held assertion that morals are for religion and culture, outside of the realm of science. In other words, science can reveal the way we behave, and why (in fact, evolutionary psychology and related disciplines are doing just that), but it can't tell us how we SHOULD behave. Harris claims that science can. That science should.
To paraphrase, Harris uses two logical statements to support this assertion:
1- Some states produce more well-being/happiness/goodness then others.
2- These states depend on physical events that are predictable.
This means science can tell us how to achieve (via morals) well-being. For example, allowing rape is not likely to increase well-being in general. The fact that well-being is hard to define, or potentially impossible, is not a deterrent. Science is not about absolutes. It's about probabilities, and improvement. What's healthier- to be a sprinter or a marathon runner? To be kinder to strangers or kinder to kin? George Burns may have smoked and lived to 90+, but is smoking healthy? Some people hit their spouses and enjoy it, but does spousal abuse promote well-being? Harris would answer "no" to those, and claim that science backs him up in both. Harris doesn't claim to have all the answers to many challenging ethical/moral questions, but argues that there are some answers that are objectively better than other answers. Some morals are objectively better at producing well-being than other morals, and science can help us determine what those are. Moral relativism is an excuse. Clearly, some things promote more harm than well-being, like severe child abuse. If we can agree that child abuse does harm well-being (and the new positive psychology, as well as traditional clinical psychology agree), then science can tell us that a moral against child abuse is more likely to be a good moral than a moral promoting child abuse. Just like health science can tell us that eating super-sized fast-food meals is less healthy than eating roasted vegetables. I should point out that I can't really do the book's 200-page argument justice within the confines of a review. It's a simple, but deep argument built on logical deductions and sprinkled with some inductive evidence from psychology/neuroscience. For me, Harris' main argument is pretty hard to escape.
There are some drawbacks to this book that made me consider giving it less than five stars. The biggest one for a lot of readers is probably that Harris is very anti-religion. I feel that Harris wastes a lot of time bashing religion and those who believe it in. He doesn't need to once he successfully argues that science can weigh in on morality. He argues that it's condescending to not tell religious people they're flat-out wrong, but I would argue that it's not effective to do so (and I bet it sure feels condescending to them). Early on, Harris does admit that his theory doesn't exclude the possibility of religious goals entering the well-being equation (e.g., the perceived need to save one's eternal soul would surely weigh in on the definition of well-being), but he dismisses those ideas vehemently in later chapters. The other major drawback is that this is largely an effort in argument and logic that is very scant on actual evidence and research on the topic. In his defense though, this book represents an attempt to start an entirely new branch of science, so the lack of evidence at this stage is excusable. Normally I'd knock off a star for that lack of evidence, but in this case, I find his argument so powerful and interesting that I kept all five stars.
So I know that some people aren't going to think this is a five-star book. I happen to think it is because I find his argument highly persuasive. But more than that, what Harris does is open up a very important topic to real debate- can science have anything meaningful to say about our well-being in the same way it does about our physical health? Whether or not you agree with Harris, I think it's hard to argue that this is not a question worth serious consideration. I also agree with Harris that we are a more moral society now than we were in the past. Objectively so. But I also agree with him that we need to keep considering and questioning our morals rather than sitting on our laurels, and his idea of using science to help us develop better morals is one well worth exploring.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best approach I have heard of,
Lets get a few things out of the way.
If you actually understand what Mr Harris is saying (which many negative reviewers clearly did not) you should understand this:
1) He does not advocate moral relativism in the sense that 'anything goes'. He clearly outlines what he means by morals and then goes on to describe a framework for identifying those moral frameworks which work better than others. He does say that there may be multiple, and equally beneficial, systems for moral reasoning. That is far from saying 'anything goes' (i.e. rape, murder, etc...). This is perhaps the strongest aspect of his argument. He does not claim to know the answer. He does not claim that the answer is 100% knowable. He describes how we have been coming ever closer in some respects (and farther in others) to a moral system that allows more people to live fulfilling lives than could be imagined 200 years ago (and i'm not talking about advances in technology or medicine).
2) He clearly argues against moral absolutism. He convincingly explains why moral absolutism is dangerous and how, despite Religions attempts to claim an unchanging moral compass, the majority of so-called religious moderates are actually shifting their moral leanings/interpretations of their holy books in response to a changing Moral landscape. It is those that do not change their morals that we call 'fundamentalists'.
3) He is not trying to 'prove' anything. He has described a reasonable way in which science, logic, observation and discourse can lead to productive and conscious choices about morality. Over time it is reasonable to hope that we could weed out bad 'moral' prescriptions and modify/replace them with others to move in a direction of increased human flourishing.
If you are the type of person who, without your holy book you would rape, steal and murder, this book will not help you. Actually "God" will not help you either (you probably need counselling and a dose of some anti-psychotics), but that's a topic for another day. On the other hand, if you are the type of person who is uncomfortable with moral prescriptions based solely on ancient texts, this book is definitely a good read. You may not agree with every point, but the book is well written, orderly and thorough. At the end of the day I would much sooner adopt a reality-based moral system than one arbitrarily constructed by ancient mystics. At least if you make a mistake that increases suffering (in the world imagined by Sam Harris) you can identify the problem and correct it. Sacred texts on the other hand shackle you to whatever barbarism is contained therein, otherwise you 'protest' the interpretations of the text and move in arbitrary (without the guidance of evidence and reason) moral directions in the hope of finding something better (a kind of moral evolution you might say, with the unfortunate consequence of mountains of needless suffering).
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I've ever read.,
This book is the most contemplative, thought provoking, and intellectually honest read I've ever had. Not only did it intrigue and delight me, it made me a better person. If you only ever read one book, make it this one, please.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Morality one,religion zero,
Just goes to show what we atheists have known all along;the bible is full of contradictions and immoral behaviors that have no place in a humanists world. Keep the bare bones truth coming and just maybe humanity wont destroy itself in the name of some he,she, it, they, deity anytime soon!!!.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking but not an answer to much,
I read this book in a single night due to a particularly vicious episode of insomnia. Admittedly, this is probably not the best frame of mind to read a book as complicated as this but I was still able to read it from cover to cover without getting too terribly lost. My final conclusion after the first reading is that the book was thought provoking enough to warrant a second read. I believe that any publication about which that can be said warrants three stars on that basis alone. I'm afraid, though, that I could not go higher than three stars on this one. I do not belong to any organized religion and would generally agree that most of the great faiths are ill-suited to be authorities on morality, but I am not quite ready to accept Harris's position that ethics can be reduced to equations (I know that is a GROSS oversimplification of what he proposes, but I wish to be brief in this analysis). Suffice it to say, I do believe that moral issues can be resolved rationally (as opposed to by 'revealed' authority) but that is about as far as I am willing to go as yet. Harris has not convinced me of anything further in this book. I will give him a second read at least and see if I change my mind so, I guess from that perspective, I have had my money's worth already.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars over-promised and under-delivered,
Harris is another of the popular atheist-scientists who spends most of the time riffing about the evils of organized religion. Fine. Got it. Heard it lost from Hitchens and all those other loudmouths. I am not defending Christianity or any religion but what these guys don't know about the human drive to believe in something other than oneself could fill another book.
i bought this book because Harris offers the novel idea that there may be scientific/biological basis for morality - he sets this against the idea of well-being as a moral indicator and imperative. But he never gets to explaining in other that the most vague terms what this might mean. It is an old saw on materialism and not much more. Wasted money IMHO.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wit and Wisdom,
In End Of Faith, Harris poked around in the box marked "Religion" and, with a brilliant wit and the clarity of a well-refined anger, showed much of its content to be rank and not worth keeping.
In The Moral Landscape, he again notes the challenges religion presents, this time to the discussion of morals, but he also opens up the box marked "Science" and hauls out some of the stuff in it that threatens to taint the whole collection. By getting it out of the way, he clears for all of us a path by which we might achieve a civilization bounded by empathy and goodwill and in which the chasm that has existed between "facts and values - and therefore between science and morality" is bridged.
And again, Harris's particularly brilliant wit allows us to enjoy ourselves all the way to the refreshing clarity his wisdom offers.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great read on a topic that needs more emphasis & clarity,
I've listened to the CD version of this book a couple times now on my commute to and from work. As Harris has a wife and daughter, he has a vested interest in making the world a better place using his intellect and background as a neuroscientist. While maintaining his intellectual honesty and collegial respectability as an atheist, he must also make a case that morality is not merely subjective, and that all opinions on issues of morality, however complex, cannot have equal weighting. In essence, there are moral truths that can be found scientifically, as science can be tied to the continuum of happiness to suffering in conscious creatures (namely humans). He argues for a utilitarian consequentialism, while deftly dodging the criticisms of (the fundamental flaw of strict atheism) moral relativity, as well as moral preference, and of course morality on the basis of religious authority. I particularly like his example of a fictional society whose religion teaches that every third shall walk in darkness, justifying the 'plucking out of the eyes' of every 3rd child.(Obama's advisor on human bioethics actually relays to Sam in conversation that this society would be morally justified in this mandate, which Sam finds abhorrent, and I agree).
While his diatribe against Francis Collins is mostly correct, though harsh, I don't think he has quite ruled out the possibility of non-revealed religion (a la Thomas Paine, Spinoza and company). If he really thinks there are morally objective truths, without there being a god, he is sadly mistaken. In Bryson's, 'A Brief History of Nearly Everything', he talks about the origin of DNA (and though scientists haven't found it yet), the molecule just wants to exist (and replicate), and we organisms are just hosts for these replicators. In a materialistic world where there are no goals, and chaos reigns supreme, I find it extremely unlikely that anything could arise out of this prebiotic world to desire anything. So too, I disagree with Harris' assertion that there is a 'moral truth' that can be devised arising from nothing at all, with no top-down topology. As Einstein stated, "My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind." Our minds, after all, are the result of evolution, so our understanding of the nature of things is limited.
I think he is treading dangerously close to the theistic waters. You can't have it both ways Sam! (moral truth still requires God, even if that truth requires an amount of pain in this world you reject) His reasoning on this subject will be tested in his debate with WLC later this year, I am sure.
Overall, still a fantastic book I recommend to anyone concerned with religion, ethics, and the progress that science is making in the cognitive & behavioral fields of humanity.
5.0 out of 5 stars thought is was an audio book my friend liked it,,
sorry can't rate it thought is was an audio book gave it to a friend he said kit was good but a bit technical
5.0 out of 5 stars bravo, sam!,
un très bon livre pour qui veut comprendre la situation actuelle de ce qui mène le monde. attire notre attention sur la bêtise humaine, sur l'aspect déraisonnable de la foi, sur le refus de certaines gens de se servir de leur intelligence quand les grandes questions existentielles sont en jeu......aide à réaliser que l'athéisme est la seule position qui peut intellectuellement se défendre et aboutir à un véritable humanisme, à donner enfin l'importance qu'elle mérite à la position qui prône que le seul bonheur possible pour l'Homme doit être cherché sur terre, et que, en conséquence on n'a pas besoin d'un dieu pour être convaincu qu' une morale strictement naturelle est la seule nécessaire pour nous guider et faire de nous des Humains travaillant à effacer les inégalités tant biologiques, innées , que sociales pour arriver à créer un monde terrestre où le bonheur peut être l'apanage de tous
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The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris (Audio CD - Oct. 5 2010)
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