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A short introduction to Sam Harris's new book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values.
More information at SamHarris.org
yes, I agree. Science can inform the debate; what makes people "happy" is an empirical question, but one in which it is crucial to operationalize exactly what is meant by "happiness". That we should promote human happiness is not an empirical question however. It is a value likely shared by most humans, but how that should be achieved will bring us around full circle (e.g., my faith-based friends think that we should promote human happiness by denying the flesh, following their holy book, subjugating ourselves to the will of god..........). In any event, I look forward to reading the book.
It's on my must read list. Science the only way humanity has discovered to know the natural world.
I hope he goes further than 'just' trying to make the case that science can inform the debate about what is moral. I think to many of us rationalist, it's pretty self-evident. I would hope he dug deeper and made some significant claims (backed by evidence, or at least describes the method to get such evidence) that start to lay out a description of what is moral.Until we're able to clearly say in detail what is proven to be moral and immoral, we won't be able to say much more that faithmongers spinning dogma.Bottom line.. it's not enough to say it's possible. We need to be able to say what we've found and know.
What if a function that maximizes happiness concludes that overall happiness will improve if we just create a small slave caste? What if it calculates that hate speech really ought to be banned? What if it concludes that theists are less depressed and therefore that is the way to go, if you just want to maximize happiness?The moral landscape is a cop-out, and it begs the question of what it is we want to maximize.
<span>What if a function that maximizes happiness concludes that overall happiness will improve if we just all gouge out our eyes and chop off our left hands? Seriously, do you even have any idea what it is you're trying to criticize? Sam is pretty explicit that he thinks human and animal well being is what should be maximized, and makes and extreemly compleing case. Dismissing an entire book you haven't read, very rational and open minded. </span>
The only one dismissing a point out of hand is you. If the happiness of 7 billion people could be improved by just a measly percent by any metric you want to choose, by sacrificing millions, or thousands, or even one innocent humans life, that would empirically speaking be peak in Harris' "moral landscape".It doesn't matter what your morals say. Or that it's "obviously" evil. That's the point! You have to make arbitrary excuses to rule out killings of innocents.
FYI, I checked amazon for the book and found a long description and Q&A with Sam. At the end, there are some review notes from Ian McEwan, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence M. Krauss, and Steven Pinker. I thought I'd toss this into the fray even though I haven't read it yet myself. Maybe it will help us bring Sam's views into focus.
From Dawkins' comment at amazon (about the book): "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." Yes, he did say that: it's even on a fucking video. I cringed when I first saw it and have been expecting the pious to throw it back at him and us. In this video, Richard clearly ejects reason from being able to define a rational secular metaethics and ethical system. In this view, science can tinker around the edges but that's the end of it. The video gave the nutters all the ammunition they needed, but, to my knowledge, they missed it. Now, it's too late: Richard has changed his mind and the book has done some good in the world even if it's details don't hold up. People can agree that ethics pertains to a relationship to a standard of value but not agree on what that standard is.
I'm sorry for the double and triple comments. I click the "Post" button only once and this is what happens. I comment on many sites, but this is the only one where this happens.
So it all boils down to the greatest good for the greatest number. How revelatory.Sure we all want to be happy, but how can we subscribe empirical meaning to an emotion that is but a by product of the random evolution that lead to the development of an advanced nervous system. Leaving aside all together the notion that happiness is somehow the optimum state.Many of humanities greatest achievements were motivated by emotions other than happiness. I believe he has firmly left the realm of empiricism here. Happiness... is selling books.
Sam Harris? You mean pro torture Sam Harris? Pro nuclear first strike Sam Harris?"There is this idea in science that it can help us get what we value but it can never tell us what we ought to value."No, that comes from philosophy and is called the fact value distinction and you haven't solved it torture boy."I think of a moral landscape where the peaks correspond to the heights of human happiness"Why should we maximize happiness?
He's totally flawed here. And the interview with Jon Stewart showed it (differnet video obviously). He's looking at things form a societal view, but not really asking who's happiness it is that is important, as many times there are options where an individual's happiness is weighed against anothers. i say this as someone who believes in distinct right and wrong, he's never going to find it the way he's going.
Perhaps we should suspend judgement until we've read the book?
How is the moral landscape a cop-out?? It doesn't beg the question. It makes the question worth asking.I suggest you check out Sam Harris's views before you come down so hard on a straw man.For starters, he's explicit about the fact that the moral landscape may be (and likely is) multimodal.We might find, for instance, that covering women in burkas is a local maximum (compared, say, to covering everything but the face); but that there's a larger maximum nearby in which women are emancipated.Or we might find that both Libertarian AND Communist utopias are (distant) local maxima. (This says nothing on how we might get there, or the practicality or side-effects of getting there.)Check this out fore more:http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/morality10/morality10_index.html
I recall when he first said that... pleased now that he changed his mind. :)
Actually, he's not stuck on happiness, nor does he propose maximizing the greatest good.He uses the expression "human flourishing". I suspect this is chosen carefully to be sufficiently vague that he might be clear about what he means in his book...
It's time the fact-value distinction were thoroughly debunked... It's helpful to nobody.
How do you suggest he go about it?He might be unclear about it or even wrong about it now, but other than trying to pose these questions and trying to answer them, there's no way to progress.We're all awesome armchair scientists when it comes to morality.