Monday, March 22, 2010

Sam Harris: Science Can Answer Moral Questions | TED 2010


Filmed Feb 2010; Posted Mar 2010 on TED
Questions of good and evil, right and wrong are commonly thought unanswerable by science. But Sam Harris argues that science can -- and should -- be an authority on moral issues, shaping human values and setting out what constitutes a good life.

39 comments:

  1. Sam sounds a lot like John Galt.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Awesome :D I've been waiting for this!

    ReplyDelete
  3. While I want to agree with him, I don't think he is correct. His arguement does not prove that human well-being should be the 'ought' of morality; he rather presumes that it should be. The religious perspective would say that "glory to god" outweighs human well-being. While science can measure, if inexacly, human well-being, this does not mean that science can measure moral facts. The arguement is circular. Or as Nietzsche would ask: why favour truth over untruth?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Been waiting for this for a long time, ended up on my favorites list.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Science? No, not really. Utilitarianism? Yes, indeedy.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The problem with the is ought delemma is that they are not dicotomies. You can not get from an is to an ought WITHOUT reference to the passions. If you do not desire pain you ought not put your hand in the hot coals. I need not make any reference to anything except my own desires to make that statement. Morality is no different.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Damn TED2010, why the shitty quality?!

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh wow, much better on YoutTube.

    ReplyDelete
  9. And all this from a man who suggested that it would be just to torture captured suspected Muslim terrorists with a psychological terror that shows no physical sign of distress. brilliant.

    ReplyDelete
  10. What in the world does Einstein's theory of relativity have to do with the existence of God?  As far as I can tell you've written a pretty big non-sequiteur.  Are you taking medication?  Because your post makes no sense.

    ReplyDelete
  11. You haven't read the book. Good job being an ignorant dumbass.

    ReplyDelete
  12. <span>...and I suppose Schrödinger puts the cat in the coffin of theism...? </span>
    <span>Sorry, no cartoon for you illiterates, dmabus</span>

    ReplyDelete
  13. <span>It seems like Harris has gotten sick of debating theologians who throw the same bad arguments at him over and over. I think he has realized it is time to start addressing issues that we will need to discuss in a post-religion era. We're moving forward!</span>

    ReplyDelete
  14. f- off. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/in-defense-of-torture_b_8993.html

    ReplyDelete
  15. Ivan is a troll, ignore him.

    ReplyDelete
  16. No really, it's offensive that a man talks about 'rational' morality and reaches the conclusions that it's legitimate to torture as long as it's not offensive to the torturer. the 'pill' he suggests does exactly that, it's no change in kind as far as the tortured is concerned, it simply cleans things up for the conscience of the torturer. Give me liberation theology over that kind of morality. 

    Disagreement is not trolling. Assuming that someone who has a disagreement is just ignorant, that's the way of the neo-atheist position.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Like I said, as all your posts here demonstrate, crypto-theist troll. fuck off, yourself.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I am an atheist, I am also a proud catholic. I am also a scientist. Maybe those things don't resolve in your mind. I can see though that you're especially open to discussion and reason. In any case, being a 'crytpo-theist' has no bearing on my critique of Sam Harris. It's only his disgusting prejudice and his atheistic end-of-times clash of civilizations that gives his argument any rational basis. If all you want to be is a cheerleader, that's fine. But acknowledge that on the issue of morality he is neither 'scientific' nor rational.  

    ReplyDelete
  19. Yes, if we hypothetically imagine someone who had said what you dishonestly claim Sam Harris had said about torture, that should present the problem you claim exists here.  The reason we are calling you a troll is because of the fact that you are blatantly lying about what Sam Harris has said about torture in order to try to make your point.  Does your "liberation theology" include the notion that there's nothing wrong with putting words in other people's mouths, lying about what they said, as long as its done in the defense of theology?  Because thats exactly how you're acting.  Your decision to lie about what Sam Harris said is not a mere "disagreement", as you dishonestly try to make it seem, you pathetic little troll.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Steven, please see the huffington post link above. 

    ReplyDelete
  21. Ivan, while decrying Sam Harris' position on torture in the Huff piece, you have not shown how it is flawed logicaly. Harris ends his peice "if we are willing to drop bombs, or even risk that rifle rounds might go astray, we should be willing to torture a certain class of criminal suspects and military prisoners; if we are unwilling to torture, we should be unwilling to wage modern war." How is he wrong? You can say he is immoral for sugesting the murder of innocent children as "colatoral damage" is on par with torturing a prisonor who *might* whatever the small chance, reveal information that will save lives, but you need to argue or at least suggest why he is wrong in his reasoning. Otherwise you are just name calling. Can you detail how his argument in the Huff peice is irational, immoral and unscientific?

    I don't know if Harris is right or not, and I hope you can mount a strong argument for why he is, but I personally finds his conclusion I quoted above compelling, mainly because I don't find myself willing to torture or wage war. On a related note, I am not entirely certain his depiction of a pacifist state being over run by thugs is the only real option left when we abstain from war.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Ivan, I'll also point out that Harris did not <span>suggest as you wrote "</span><span>that it would be just to torture captured suspected Muslim terrorists with a psychological terror that shows no physical sign of distress," but rather that it might be as justafiable and on par with unintentionally killing innocent men, women, and children as a result of collatoral damage in conventional warfare.</span>

    ReplyDelete
  23. I don't think Sam Harris' argument is very strong on this issue, and I think the way he defines the moral landscape is flawed.

    He posits that some nonhuman brains might be able to explore parts of the moral landscape that ours cannot, but in doing so I think he's got it backwards. The difference is not in the limitiations of the brains themselves. The difference is that the landscape itself is a function of brain matter. What we value collectively as a species or as individuals is contigent on our physiology and the proof is trivial: You can imagine a neural system, capable of empathy, that behaves exactly opposite to what we would consider moral.

    That doesn't mean we can't derive values from facts. It just means that those values aren't universal in a sense that transcends our species. Take a cat for example. The cat isn't being immoral in any meaningful sense when it plays with its prey. Its moral landscape is different from ours and not an isolated island in a universal moral landscape.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Man, if it weren't for the attempt to extend sentience to animals and pro-Buddhist rhetoric, I might be willing to agree.  Harris says that there is sometimes a clear right and wrong?  I agree, I just don't think he has the right idea about what those notions are.

    ReplyDelete
  25. <span>"Man, if it weren't for the attempt to extend sentience to animals" </span>So you don't think animals can experience pleasure and pain then? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sentience

    ReplyDelete
  26. As the wikipedia article you linked to suggests, the definition of 'sentience' isn't nailed down.  I think any discussion we had would degrade into semantics.  But yes, I do think animals can feel apin, but no that isn't what I meant by sentience.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Andrew, where in Sam's talk did he suggest that he thought sentience was anything other than the ability to experience pain and pleasure? I don't remember that although I have only watched it twice and could be wrong. What I remember was Harris referring to was the ability to suffer. " Values are facts about the well being of conscious creatures. Why is it we don't have ethical obligations towards rocks? ..It is because we don't think rocks can suffer. And if we are more concerned about our fellow primates than we are about insects, as indeed we are, it is because they are exposed to a greater range of suffering and happiness." 1:38 ish-2:18ish in the video. 

    ReplyDelete
  28. <span>@Ivan...</span>
    <span>I am an atheist, I am also a proud catholic. I am also a scientist.</span>

    A newest ( improved)  edition of a Holy Trinity. Beat that !

    ReplyDelete
  29. By attempting to push forth that definition of sentience and to also propose that it is the basis of values, one implies that animals should be granted certain ethically or morally founded sanctions as well as implying that emotions are the foundation of value.  I think that's the stuff of postmodern woo.  Empathy is no rational basis for morality or ethics.  To many the term scentience reflects a sort of self awareness and introspection.  And indeed we do not judge animals as protected by measure of their complexity, but rather by measure of their similarities to us, as we give mammals a revered place above birds (to give an example.)  It's the common attempt to hijack of our built in xenophobic tendencies without admiting they are the source of our compassion.  To admit that might jsut be too ;true; for Harris, as he seems to only want to admit truths so long as they can be used to justify Budhist compatible morality.

    ReplyDelete
  30. But once you can understand the brain in full detail, you can make statements like "in general, putting your hand in hot coals is detrimental to human well-being". That wouldn't be wishy-washy, it would be a solid statistical fact with error bars.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I don't think he said that. He said that brains other than yours, but still human, may be able to reach peaks you cannot. Either way, having multiple landscapes isn't really much of a complication. If we have the ability to map one, then we could map each of them.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Andrew that is fascinating, thanks for clarifying. What to your mind constitutes adequete evidence for sentience? What evidence is there that a creature percieves itself and its suroundings if we exclude pleasure seeking and pain avoidance as valid? Can a creature be sentient without these two? Without pleasure seeking and pain avoidance wouldn't the creature cease to have preferences? What goals would it have?

    If you believe animals are not sentient (as you seem to by taking issue with Harris for poisting it) then would you have any objection to someone microwaving a litter of stray cats one at a time because they liked the sound they made?

    ReplyDelete
  33. Andrew if sentiment and emotion are not near the core of morality and value, what is? Why would someone care if their neighbor lived or died if it were not for empathy for their suffering? What reason would someone have for aliveating the suffering of a sentient being (using your definition of sentience) and what reason would they have for not directly causing suffering for a trivial reason as I detailed with the cat example? It seems to me to be immoral to be unconcerned or dead to questions of suffering and pain, but perhaps that is because I don't yet see any alternative explanation for morality.

    ReplyDelete
  34. It certainly is a great complication if there exists multiple moral landscapes (which I claim is the case).

    Not only is morality then not universal, which Sam Harris argument relies on, it also makes it necessary to weigh what influence the different moral landscapes should have on your own behaviour by some subjective function. This completely undermines the enterprise of finding morals that are objectively better.

    Should cat morals influence your decision making? Why? Why not? How much?

    I do think our values ARE based on facts. Facts about our physical composition and biological legacy. Much of our behaviour is chiseled by the constant torrent of natural selection. But apart from being an argument against dualism, this really isn't an argument for reliably being able to tell the better of two or more moral choices.

    Why should the brains unthinking history has provided us with, on the whole happen to be biased towards good behaviour? It just doesn't follow. Uncultured nature is wild and in many cases barbaric. What we consider moral today is vastly different from what was kosher a mere century ago yet our biology hasn't changed appreciately.

    ReplyDelete
  35. Forgot name and ment to type "appreciably".

    ReplyDelete
  36. Sorry, for some reason it didn't notify me that I had been responded to.  If you want to continue this discussion my e-mail is andrewclunn@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  37. Dawkins on Sam Harris' website: "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."

    Does Richard Dawkins now believe there is objective moral truth?

    Does he now believe in a real good?

    Maryann Spikes
    San Francisco Apologetics Examiner

    ReplyDelete
  38. Maryann Spikes, San Francisco Apologetics ExaminerApril 8, 2010 at 10:04 AM

    <span>Sam Harris says that science can determine what is right. In a sense, that is true. Scientific thinking can arrive at the Golden Rule (google my name and Moral Truth Litmus). Science can study the “moral center” in the brain, can try to figure out which genes work together to build a being who experiences empathy, can tell you which chemicals make a person more likely to feel prosocial feelings and carry out prosocial behavior. But in order to call the Golden Rule, or any other standard, “objective moral truth,” (without committing the fallacy of reification) science must be able to point to the real, fulfilled ought which that alleged true standard describes. Science must show us the being who is and does what we should all be and do—that for which we all hunger. Sam Harris denies such a being exists, committing the fallacy of reification in claiming objective moral truth.</span>

    ReplyDelete
  39. <p><span><span>Philosophers,</span></span>
    </p><p><span> </span>
    </p><p><span>I invite your submissions to the next Philosophers’ Carnival </span><span>http://philosophycarnival.blogspot.com</span><span>.<span>  </span>The emphasis on this edition of the carnival will be on Sam Harris’ forthcoming “Moral Landscape” (to be released October 5).<span>  </span>If you maintain a philosophy blog, please consider writing a blog post and submitting </span><span>http://blogcarnival.com/bc/submit_28.html</span><span> it by October 9…and perhaps hosting </span><span>http://www.philosophyetc.net/2005/06/philosophers-carnival-hosting.html</span><span><span> a carnival in the future.</span></span>
    </p><p><span> </span>
    </p><p><span><span>Thankyou,</span></span>
    </p><p><span> </span>
    </p><p><span><span>Maryann Spikes</span></span>
    </p><p><span> </span>
    </p><p><span>expanded call for submissions:
    </span><span>http://www.examiner.com/apologetics-in-san-francisco/philosophers-carnival-call-for-submissions-hosting</span></p>

    ReplyDelete