Why does Sam Harris’ "Moral Landscape" have the word "moral" in it?

I actually have ‘two’ questions (followed by a more important ‘third’ question).

1.  Why does Sam Harris’ “Moral Landscape” have the word “moral” in it? and…
2.  Why doesn’t its sub-title say “How science can likely determine human values”?

Really, I think the title should read “The Landscape of Well-Being: How science can likely determine human well-being” rather than pretending to be a book about objective moral truth.

Here’s why:

A.  Harris: “Notice that I do not mention morality in the preceding paragraph, and perhaps I need not. I began this book by arguing that, despite a century of timidity on the part of scientists and philosophers, morality can be linked directly to facts about the happiness and suffering of conscious creatures. However, it is interesting to consider what would happen if we simply ignored this step and merely spoke about ‘well-being.’” (Landscape, p. 64).

B.  Harris:  “…if evil turned out to be as reliable a path to happiness as goodness is, my argument about the moral landscape would still stand, as would the likely utility of neuroscience for investigating it. It would no longer be an especially ‘moral’ landscape; rather it would be a continuum of well-being, upon which saints and sinners would occupy equivalent peaks,” (Landscape, p. 190).

And, here’s a third question–the most important of the three:

3.  What was the point of including the psychopath’s statement in chapter two (p. 95-96), if Harris is cool with not calling it evil (quotes A and B above)?

He goes on to say that people are not ultimately responsible for their own immoral, evil choices when he denies free will.  It is no wonder then that he is so ready to deny morality, to ‘go beyond’ good and evil in quotes A and B.  But…what is it people are not responsible for in the first sentence of this paragraph, if there is no morality, no good and evil–why go to the trouble of pointing out they are not responsible for something that doesn’t exist?  And what of this quote:

C.  Harris:  “We can choose to focus on certain facts to the exclusion of others, to emphasize the good rather than the bad, etc.  And such choices have consequences for how we view the world.  One can, for instance, view Kim Jong-il as an evil dictator; one can also view him as a man who was once the child of a dangerous psychopath.  Both statements are, to a first approximation, true.  (Obviously, when I speak about ‘freedom’ and ‘choices’ of this sort, I am not endorsing a metaphysical notion of ‘free will,’)” (p. 139).

So…is Kim Jong-il’s dictatorship ‘really’ evil or not?  Are we free to focus on ‘really’ morally good thoughts (precursors to behavior), to the exclusion of ‘really’ morally bad thoughts, or not?  What is the ‘correct’ approximation (as Harris calls it)–if thefirst one (by calling it ‘first’ and an ‘approximation’) needs improvement?  One that is more in line with quotes A and B–right, Harris?

I’ve said most of this previously, but it came up again here.  Figured I’d blog about it.

Other related blog posts:
Why Sam Harris’ “objective moral truth” hovers over an abyss…
Craig v Harris debate post mortem, audio, video and transcript
Open letter to William Lane Craig regarding April 7 debate with Sam Harris
At Coffee with the Euthyphro Dilemma

Related Examiner.com articles:
Review: Sam Harris’ “The Moral Landscape”
Harris versus Dawkins, modern day Euthyphro dilemma
Dawkins changes mind for Harris’ objective moral truth
Sam Harris’ forthcoming Moral Landscape ‘decides’ objective morality
Sam Harris claims we are not free to choose objective moral truth.


This post also appeared on Examiner.com.

This entry was posted in Examiner.com Articles, Sam Harris. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why does Sam Harris’ "Moral Landscape" have the word "moral" in it?

  1. Brasil says:

    Harris dissects the evolutionary and biological processes underlying reason, moral choices and faith. He poses scientific counterarguments for religious tenets and dreams of a world where science proves the worth of any moral choice. You may not agree with everything he has to say, but he expresses the point of view of rationalism with thorough conviction.

  2. Ty for replying Brasil, but you don't seem to have a specific counter-argument to anything in the original post. Conviction is not an argument…neither is dreaming. Explaining the evolution of a (moral) sense does not prove the evolution of that which is sensed. And no one is w/o a worldview (religion). Counter-arguments to religious (worldview) tenets also qualify as religious (worldview) in order to count as genuine counter-arguments, otherwise there isn't any communication going on. Likewise, counter-arguments to scientific theories must also be scientific.

Tell it:

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s