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The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values Paperback – 13 Sep 2011
|Paperback, 13 Sep 2011||
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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,
“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.
"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.
"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."
"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 "
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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I should mention that "science" here doesn't only mean collecting empirical evidence or pure logic. It also means history, economics and other subjects of rational and honest thinking.
1. Successful breakdown of concept of free will(no need to buy his free will book)
2. Successful thrashing of Hume's idea that you cannot derive an "ought" from an "is".
3. Concept of "peaks and valleys" in a moral landscape has some interesting scenarios and implications.
4. Very well written(this was not surprising).
1. Not enough time dedicated to defining well being or its measuring unit(very important whenever you want to bring science in morality).
2. Not enough time dedicated to answer the tough questions or how science could "in principle" deal with it. He accepts that its difficult to answer now but you cant shy away totally if you are making a point for objectivity in morality.
This books is mostly for those who really think that there is nothing wrong with some cultures just because its their tradition to follow some behaviors. Some societies have wrong solutions to problems of well-being and thats what Sam argues science ought to change. Also, buy it for some funny personal anecdotes.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Anyway, this is a light read; sort of Gladwell-esque in that it's for the average Joe, not student of moral philosophy (although they should read it anyway as it does bring up some pretty interesting points).
All in all, Harris is pretty much rehashing old stuff, saying very little new, and acting like he's giving us the answers to pressing moral questions when in reality he just says "in the future we can / be able to…" a lot.
Sam Harris is fast becoming one of my favorite authors and that is with just three books under his belt. In the Moral Landscape, Sam Harris makes a much needed statement for our time: Morality should be put under the scrutiny of science. Sam Harris a neuroscientist himself, states "that once we understand ourselves at the level of the brain, the more we will see there are right and wrong answers to questions of human values." Thought-provoking idea.
This book is important for many reasons. Religion has failed to provide the proper moral guidance that it claims to make. Steps in Sam Harris and provides the proper approach to take: these questions of morality...we know where the answers are, in our brains. It is his contention that morality must relate to facts about "well-being" of conscious creatures, and off he goes in a world where science can tackle the most important questions about our world in an objective and scientific manner. Morality needs and can be studied scientifically, and no one can explain it better than Sam Harris.
I bought the Kindle version of the book and I must say that Amazon did a wonderful job of making sure that all the links work properly. It's a good thing too because the author makes a lot of great references. The book is broken out into five chapters and an excellent introduction:
Chapter 1 - Moral Truth. In this chapter Sam Harris really lays the ground work for his main proposition of the book: we need a science of morality because it will enable humans with an objective tool to better our world. As a freethinker, I can be swayed with compelling information and the author has peeked my interest. I still consider myself a moral relativist, I guess in large part to make it perfectly clear from my point of view, objective morality can NOT be achieved with a non-existing supernatural entity. In particular because there are many supernatural entities to choose from. So morality at that point would be relative to the "God" of your choice and hence relative. Of course, Sam Harris puts a pause to my thinking in a positive way. I can at the very least consider the proposition that science can establish the framework to an objective morality.
Chapter 2 - Good and Evil. This chapter deals with the understanding of good and evil in scientific terms. It also includes the necessary coupling of philosophy and science. "This is where a science of morality could be indispensable to us: the more we understand the causes and constituents of human fulfillment, and the more we know about the experiences of our fellow human beings, the more we will be able to make intelligent decisions about which social policies to adopt." This captures the essence of this chapter.
Chapter 3 - Belief. In this chapter Sam Harris introduces some neurological terms such as: medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) that helps better understand the workings of the brain and how it relates to beliefs. Many great examples of how we obtain our beliefs, "feeling of knowing", and religious beliefs to name a few. I also enjoyed his explanation for scientific validity.
Chapter 4 - Religion. In probably my favorite chapter, Sam Harris tackles religion. Great discussions in this chapter: an explanation of religion and how the brain is predisposed to religious thoughts, delusions, the soul (this brief section alone is worth the price of the book), also a good discussion on altruism, and how religious dogmatism presents an obstacle to scientific reasoning.
Chapter 5 - The Future of Happiness. In an uncharacteristic manner, Sam Harris provides an optimistic outlook for the future. A future in which science can lead morality grounded in reason to a better future.
In summary, this is a well researched book by a great author. Thought-provoking captures what this title is all about. I can't say that I agree with all the assertions made by Sam Harris. In essence, it's too early to reach hard conclusions. Neuroscience is in its infancy and I think the author has overextended himself with some of his conclusions. Be that as it may, leave it up to Sam Harris to make the question relevant and to look at it from different angles. Whether or not you agree with Sam Harris on every point is not what makes this book worthy of five stars, it's about the courageous intellectual journey. Take that journey and question everything...I highly recommend it!
Further suggestions: "Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us about Morality" by Patricia S. Churchland, "Hardwired Behavior: What Neuroscience Reveals about Morality" by Laurence Tancredi,"Are You Sure? The Unconscious Origins of Certainty (Brain Talk: Conversations with Neuroscientists)" by Ginger Campbell, "The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life" by Jesse Bering, "The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies---How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths" by Michael Shermer, "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" Steven Pinker, "God Soul Mind Brain: A Neuroscientist's Reflections on the Spirit World (LeapSci)" by Michael S. Graziano, "Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain?" and "Human" by Michael S. Gazzaniga, "The Myth of Free Will, Revised & Expanded Edition" by Cris Evatt and "Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior" by Leonard Mlodinow.
As far as the meat of the book is concerned, Sam Harris, a neuroscientist, puts forth his basis for morality and the reasons to support it. His opinion can be summed up, in his own words, as "Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds--and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe."
TL;DR What you can expect in this book:
-An intellectually engaging text sure to refine (if not redefine) your conception of morals.
-Heavy use of citations. (Sam Harris cites many, many sources through the course of the text, making up about a third of the book in total. This is NOT simply a citation but Harris filling in details and even tackling similarly-related tangents. Do not think of these as "wasted" space; they are, in fact, a bonus. Having read this on a kindle, going back and forth between these citations and the main text again and again was not difficult; however, if reading the paperback version I could see how this could greatly slow down the pace at which you read this book. The citations themselves range from just one line, to pages in and of themselves).
-A knowledgeable and intelligent author, keen to respond to noteworthy criticisms of his work.
-A good chunk of one of Harris' other works: Free Will. (An even shorter book than this).
What you won't find in this book:
-Beating around the bush, as it were; Sam Harris goes for the jugular right away. (The entire text is about 300 pages I believe. As I read this on the kindle, be wary of the accuracy of this number, as well as factor in the amount of material the citations take up.)
-A moral philosophy you've heard before (It is, as I understand it, rather novel in its approach. I am confident that, even if you don't agree with it, it will be well worth the read in its capacity to challenge what you already know and stimulate further thought and discussion.)