03 November 2010


It can be tricky, can't it? The Moral Landscape, by Sam Harris, tries to show how humans can use modern science to sort out some truisms on morality. um, i am lazy this morning, so here's a bit from a Q & A on Amazon.

Harris: Morality must relate, at some level, to the well-being of conscious creatures. If there are more and less effective ways for us to seek happiness and to avoid misery in this world—and there clearly are—then there are right and wrong answers to questions of morality.

Q: Are you saying that science can answer such questions?

Harris: Yes, in principle. Human well-being is not a random phenomenon. It depends on many factors—ranging from genetics and neurobiology to sociology and economics. But, clearly, there are scientific truths to be known about how we can flourish in this world. Wherever we can act so as to have an impact on the well-being of others, questions of morality apply.

Q: But can’t moral claims be in conflict? Aren’t there many situations in which one person’s happiness means another’s suffering?

Harris: There as some circumstances like this, and we call these contests ?zero-sum.? Generally speaking, however, the most important moral occasions are not like this. If we could eliminate war, nuclear proliferation, malaria, chronic hunger, child abuse, etc.—these changes would be good, on balance, for everyone. There are surely neurobiological, psychological, and sociological reasons why this is so—which is to say that science could potentially tell us exactly why a phenomenon like child abuse diminishes human well-being.

But we don’t have to wait for science to do this. We already have very good reasons to believe that mistreating children is bad for everyone. I think it is important for us to admit that this is not a claim about our personal preferences, or merely something our culture has conditioned us to believe. It is a claim about the architecture of our minds and the social architecture of our world. Moral truths of this kind must find their place in any scientific understanding of human experience.

So, i liked it but i don't know that he could convince conservative religious people. Liberal religious people, maybe. Non-religious or atheists shouldn't have an issue with the premise either. I am not sure the people who should read it will, or would admit that they could possibly be incorrect about the basis for our moral choices. a 5.

and i need to reread some basic philosophy/logic. i know i've got a book around somewhere. hmm. ah, yes i have Being Logical by D.Q. McInerny and Philosophy Made Simple by Richard H Popkin. soon.

Currently: low about the elections. don't know if i should try looking for a silver lining.

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