The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values Hardcover – Oct 5 2010
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“Sam Harris breathes intellectual fire into an ancient debate. Reading this thrilling, audacious book, you feel the ground shifting beneath your feet. Reason has never had a more passionate advocate.”
Beautifully written as they were (the elegance of his prose is a distilled blend of honesty and clarity) there was little in Sam Harris's previous books that couldn't have been written by any of his fellow 'horsemen' of the 'new atheism'. This book is different, though every bit as readable as the other two. I was one of those who had unthinkingly bought into the hectoring myth that science can say nothing about morals. To my surprise, The Moral Landscape has changed all that for me. It should change it for philosophers too. Philosophers of mind have already discovered that they can't duck the study of neuroscience, and the best of them have raised their game as a result. Sam Harris shows that the same should be true of moral philosophers, and it will turn their world exhilaratingly upside down. As for religion, and the preposterous idea that we need God to be good, nobody wields a sharper bayonet than Sam Harris.
“Reading Sam Harris is like drinking water from a cool stream on a hot day. He has the rare ability to frame arguments that are not only stimulating, they are downright nourishing, even if you don’t always agree with him! In this new book he argues from a philosophical and a neurobiological perspective that science can and should determine morality. His discussions will provoke secular liberals and religious conservatives alike, who jointly argue from different perspectives that there always will be an unbridgeable chasm between merely knowing what is and discerning what should be. As was the case with Harris’ previous books, readers are bound to come away with previously firm convictions about the world challenged, and a vital new awareness about the nature and value of science and reason in our lives.”
—Lawrence M. Krauss, Foundation Professor and Director of the ASU Origins Project at Arizona State University, author of The Physics of Star Trek, and, Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science
“A lively, provocative, and timely new look at one of the deepest problems in the world of ideas. Harris makes a powerful case for a morality that is based on human flourishing and thoroughly enmeshed with science and rationality. It is a tremendously appealing vision, and one that no thinking person can afford to ignore.”
--Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate.
About the Author
Sam Harris is the author of the bestselling books The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape, Free Will, and Lying. The End of Faith won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction. His writing has been published in over fifteen languages. Dr. Harris is cofounder and CEO of Project Reason, a nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. He received a degree in philosophy from Stanford University and a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA. Please visit his website at SamHarris.org.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
The essence of the proposed moral framework is the definition of morality is that which improves human well-being. Indeed, this isn't everyone's definition, and Harris doesn't hide from that fact. But he discusses it in the context of which features of a definition of morality are defensible and which are not. From this definition, the rest of the book falls into place, and indeed both a science of morality and a moral absolutism can be derived from it. Harris does not claim that determining rules of morality by this method will be easy, far from it. But the difficulty, or impossibility, of measuring or predicting cause-effect outcomes on human well-being does not mean the principle itself is flawed. If we cannot determine an outcome for a particular scenario, and hence cannot determine a moral course of action, that does not mean that inserting answers by other methods (such as dogma) are better in any way. That sort of "morality of gaps" is very analogous to the "god of gaps" in scientific knowledge. Bad information is worse than no information, and admitting we don't know the answer to something is better than making one up, particularly when people make up different answers. Moreover, such ability to make determinations can change over time and contributing factors become clearer, as is the case in complex and chaotic systems.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
The Moral Landscape will challenge you and open your mind. Sam Harris clearly and articulately establishes a functional framework for ethical human behaviour based on science, as... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
A significant amount of time has passed since I've read this book but I still draw from the concepts it explores on a regular basis. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Ritter
Highly recommended. It shouldn't be a surprise that the most insightful writing today is coming from scientists. "The Moral Landscape" is a voice of reason. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Amazon Customer
Moral relativism? It's not for me and probably won't be for anyone who reads this book. Sam offers us a basis for a scientifically supported, consequentialist approach to morality. Read morePublished 9 months ago by roderick pritchard
Beautifully written. If Sam Harris has not yet won the Pulitzer Prize, he most certainly should have!Published 9 months ago by Jon Munroe
great book, very in depth. points out a intresting new way to think about ethics.Published 9 months ago by elliot wilson
Harris has some good ideas but he does seem to be caught in black and white thinking too often. An example is a Christian can't be a good scientist because he must believe in a... Read morePublished 14 months ago by EBuller
Brilliant book! Nobody defines moral truth the way Sam Harris does!Published 14 months ago by Roger Marcus
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