Actually ‘two’ questions (followed by a more important ‘third’ question) for Sam Harris:
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, 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.
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 the ‘first‘ one (by calling it ‘first’ and an ‘approximation’) needs improvement? One that is more in line with quotes A and B–right, Harris?
Most of this has been said previously, and slightly more recently it came up again here.
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