53 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Some reviewers seem to be missing the point of the book
I am doing an Msc in neuroscience and was recommended this book and was told it would be an interesting read for someone of my outlook on things. It certainly was. I can't recommend it enough to anyone with an interest in science.
As far as I can tell the message of this books is simple. Unless i'm wrong and i might be, see what you think...
Published on 27 April 2011 by D. Condliffe
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A mix of weak arguments and sound debate
Among the main claims of "The Moral Landscape" is that there exists such a thing as an objective moral code, that it is more or less equivalent to a form of utilitarianism, and that science can be used to gain information about this moral code and thus about how we should structure our society. The book is divided into five chapters, and covers topics such as the...
Published 13 months ago by Alexander Sokol
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The inadequacy of faith invites the intrusion of science.,
Sam Harris is perhaps my favourite intellectual of this age. Lucid and logical at all times, he is ever passionate in his convictions yet calm in delivery. Here, in The Moral Landscape, he proceeds on from his previous assertions regarding the undesirable and illegitimate nature of blind faith and attempts to assert that morality can be, and is, within the orbit of scientific enquiry. Harris undertakes this task with his customary reason and integrity but, although I agree with the latter 90 percent of the book from a logical perspective, I am unconvinced by the premise it is predicated upon.
In short, Harris argues that, far from being the property of the supernatural or the instinctive, morality can be understood as a synonym for well-being, and that humanity should proceed in both law and decision-making with the greater good as its foremost guide. By making choices, and therefore living our lives, with the goal of improving the well-being of others we will be acting in a manner that is as moral as possible - and that this well-being or "morality" is in fact measurable by science. Even if the answers may seem far beyond our reach there are, nevertheless, answers. Harris asserts that, just as we can easily see that a life lived in torment, poverty and danger is worse than one spent in wealth, health and luxury, we can also determine what is better (and therefore more moral) when considering less dramatically opposing and more subtle differences.
My one criticism is that whereas I agree entirely that we can make choices and find answers to the questions of what would constitute the greater good, I disagree that this would be the most "moral" per se. My position is that morality, by definition, is an esoteric and supernatural concept woven into the very fabric of the universe - it is an unalterable right and wrong, as decided by the higher intelligence of the universe itself. Now, as I don't believe in the existence of God(s), I would argue that morality too is therefore non-existent; both being man-made concepts. So, whereas Harris attempts to redefine what morality is, I would argue that we need to consider the very notion of it as being an archaic, superstitious and unnecessary.
Where we agree is in the idea that it is time for our species to grow up and be motivated by helping and protecting each other, rather than selfishly imposing our own interests and will upon our fellow inhabitants of the planet. From the Crusades and the Holocaust to 9/11, history has shown that the manner and scope of evil acts done in the name of a subjective determination of morality has no limit. This simply could not be the case if the perpetrators of such horrors were instead purely motivated by the well-being of others. So, whereas a reader's disagreement with an author is not necessarily any indication of the quality of the book, here it is a small but crucial distinction which I feel impacts upon the veracity of Harris's ideas.
Having said that, and from whatever viewpoint you encounter this text, I doubt there is a reader who, having encountered this book, could argue against its general thrust or with the unwavering eloquence and rationality of its author. The Moral Landscape remains an important work.
16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Uh oh, wan out of piggies.,
In the 1988 film "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?", there is a scene where Eddie Valiant falls from a very high storey of a toon building. He catches himself on a flagpole, clinging on for dear life by the fingers of one hand. As he hangs there, that adorable widdle bird, Tweety Pie walks up and begins to play `This little piggy went to market', prying one of Eddie's fingers from the flagpole with each line of the rhyme. Tweety starts the line, "This little piggy had none" and lifts the last finger. As Eddie falls, Tweety laments, "Uh oh, wan out of piggies".
For some time now, religion has been trying to claim that it alone can shape morality. It may not have been right about history. Or science. Or the future. But it could still show you the way to be good, right? Right?! One last, desperate finger clinging to the flagpole of relevance. And then along came Sam `Tweety Pie' Harris... Ping! Uh oh, wan out of piggies.
Harris's new book, "The Moral Landscape" outlines his contention that morals and ethics can be scientifically determined, that they're naturalistic. If there is a right way to do something and a wrong way, and the results of each way are different and appreciable, then they can be studied scientifically and the best way determined from the results. Through this method we can increase well-being.
Harris uses two methods to back up his case; scientific (using the currently available data) and philosophical (which is independent of current knowledge). He uses both methods well and with clarity. Harris uses clear language and examples to better illustrate his ideas. He doesn't shy away from conceding the limitations of current knowledge, nor from pointing out that certain moral dilemmas are difficult to resolve. While he in no way talks down to the reader, the book is squarely aimed at everyone. You don't need any special knowledge or a PhD to enjoy this book, but you will need to think. "The Moral Landscape" is one of the most thought-provoking books that I've read for some time. It is, to use a Richard Dawkins' term, consciousness-raising. Harris makes a solidly convincing case and I came to the end of the book thinking differently to when I started it. He even answered my long-standing question of whether or not free-will exists. You can't ask for more than that.
"The Moral Landscape" is a superb book that should be read and considered by as many people as possible. Some people won't read it or will dismiss it out of hand because of who the author is. That'll be their loss. Whether or not you end up agreeing with Harris, don't be one of those who miss out.
Oh, and go watch "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?". It'll cheer you up.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Top Notch,
This review is from: The Moral Landscape (Paperback)
Very interesting. Really good effort by Sam Harris to bring morality into the realms of science and critical thinking, rather than the outdated and irrelevant religious texts that seem to be used so often.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A ship of clear thinking in a sea of hokum.,
This review is from: The Moral Landscape (Kindle Edition)
Like all Sam Harris books, this one is a ship of clear thought in a sea of hokum. And you know what they say about the sea - it's full of gliding monsters. If we are ever to grow up as a species, we need a million more like Sam Harris, and I think, in the future, we'll get them. There's a clear choice between thinking for ourselves and more god-inspired bloodshed, misery, torture and death.
I know which I'd prefer. The idea of God is a monkey on our backs, but not the monkey we evolved from. Thanks to Sam Harris, we're getting better faster.
14 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A science of human flourishing,
Science can tell you how a mobile phone works, what stars are made of and the age of the universe - but how to live your life? What does science know about goodness or about right and wrong? According to conventional wisdom, not much. According to Sam Harris, more than you might think, even if you've already rejected religion. In this tremendous book, Harris argues for a new kind of wisdom, which recognizes the importance of science in mapping and navigating the moral landscape, and which reclaims for reason the domain of values. The central image is the moral landscape: its peaks and valleys are better and worse ways of living, and the assumption is that we'd all prefer to be on one of the peaks. Wherever you happen to find yourself, there's always an "up" and a "down" and many different ways of getting from here to there. If you agree that "questions about values - about meaning, morality, and life's larger purpose - are really questions about well-being of conscious creatures" and if you accept the idea that "human well-being entirely depends on events in the world and on states of the human brain" then you may be convinced by Harris's conclusion that values "translate into facts that can be scientifically understood".
If you believe in the kind of soul that is independent of the physical world and the material brain, a soul that can survive death and continue in a realm supervised by one or more supernatural beings, who in turn can determine whether your post mortem existence is pleasurable or painful, then you may also opt to link your values to that supernatural realm. Despite the growing lack of evidence for such an arrangement, and Euthyphro's dilemma notwithstanding, such thinking has traditionally supported the idea of moral truth. If God says it's wrong, then it's wrong!
Now, on this view, at least there is such a thing as right and wrong, even if religions have been mistaken about the way the universe works. The opposing view - that morality is a myth and statements about human values nonsense - is held by many who would otherwise be natural allies of Harris and the New Atheist project. While agreeing that "consciousness is the only intelligible domain of value" these highly educated and often highly secular scientists also tend to think that concepts like well-being and misery are poorly defined and impossible to investigate scientifically.
It's as though some atheists, mesmerized by the siren song of moral relativism, are reassured that if the pope is against both atheism and moral relativism, then there's probably something in it. After all, allowing different cultures to thrive in their own ways is surely a jolly good thing! The more sophisticated moral skeptics "piously cite Hume's is/ought distinction as though it were well known to be the last word on the subject of morality until the end of the world".
Harris is as scathing of such moral skepticism among his fellow scientists and atheists as he is of the absurd dogmas of organized religion. Quite simply, there are facts "about how conscious creatures can experience the worst possible misery and the greatest possible well-being" and so "it is objectively true to say that there are right and wrong answers to moral questions, whether or not we can always answer these questions in practice". This last qualification is crucial: mistaking no answers in practice for no answers in principle "is a great source of moral confusion".
Is the idea that there is such a thing as moral truth about which we can be mistaken so strange? After all, many people are wrong about physics, or disagree with each other, but neither fact makes us question the existence of scientific truth. At play is something deeper, and deeply opposed to faith: good reasons, good argument, good evidence. (That science prefers good evidence to bad is, of course, the key value that distinguishes science from religion. The evidence for Christianity, for example, is found in the gospels, and any reasonable person must conclude it is very poor evidence indeed, and getting poorer by the year, as we understand more about the unreliability of eyewitness testimony, the anonymity and pseudonymity of many of the New Testament authors, the unintended errors and deliberate revisions and additions made by the scribal copyists, and so on, to say nothing of the fact that, even without these deficits, it would still count as poor evidence for what is being claimed.)
As Anthony Weston points out in his excellent Rulebook for Arguments: "Not all views are equal. Some conclusions can be supported by good reasons; others have much weaker support." Argument is essential "because it is a way of trying to find out which views are better than others". Nothing here about argument going out the window just because we're dealing with moral issues or values. I agree with Harris that morality "is a genuine sphere of human inquiry" and not merely a product of culture (as some anthropologists will have us believe) or a divine given (as the religious will have us believe). We can be wrong, and we may never answer some moral questions, but progress is possible, and has happened, as anyone lucky enough to be living in twenty-first century Britain, or unlucky enough to be a democrat living in twenty-first century Syria or Libya, will testify.
The odd thing is, if Harris's own reports of those highly educated people - both religious and non-religious - he has come across are correct, many of the readers of this book will loathe it. (Steven Weinberg's line - "You have to be very learned to be that wrong" - is apt here.) My hunch is that, of the millions of ordinary British people who will never read this book, most would find its main themes unremarkable. Of course there is such a thing as right and wrong, and objective answers to at least some moral questions exist, but there is also diversity, and what's good for one person is not necessarily so good for another: there are "many different ways for individuals and communities to thrive - many peaks on the moral landscape".
By the age of four, normal children see a difference between getting permission to eat at your desk and getting permission to hit another student, "and consider the latter transgression intrinsically wrong". Grownups not suffering from Catholicism can see there is nothing wrong with contraception. And how's this for an objective claim? There "is absolutely no reason to think that demonizing homosexuals, stoning adulterers, veiling women, soliciting the murder of artists and intellectuals... will move humanity toward a peak on the moral landscape". Or is that just Harris's and my opinion?
Thinking about morality in terms of well-being is what we all do already, even the religious. Ah, but science doesn't have all the answers to even solid subjects like physics! So what? All areas of human knowledge are open-ended, why not encourage the same humility in our thinking about human well-being? The world might just become a better place.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Panoramic discussion on ethics,
This review is from: The Moral Landscape (Paperback)
Just reading through the comprehensive index [and references to authors on many sides of the debate ] in ' Moral Landscape ' is an education in itself, though I think Robert M. Price and John W. Loftus should have been on that list too. Sam Harris looks at how decisions about morality can be built up from first principles based on a scientific approach. This book is also a wide angled look at the variety of opinions about morality found on Earth.
There are two main aspects to religion
1 Debates about moral / ethical behaviour
2 Theories about a supernatural realm
Many religions try to claim their law codes are authorized by a God and maybe would collapse if that God didn't exist. Sam Harris points out that religious codes of behaviour have often been a muddle of good and bad ideas. He points to some examples of religious behaviour which impair quality of life and may also cause pain & suffering. How can books like the Bible which talk so much about the importance of love/care still harbour ideas that are so cruel or baseless?
As it says on the back cover, Sam concludes that morality can be defined in terms of human and animal well-being. He notes that it can be tricky to define well being in specific terms and to ' prove it ' relying only on science and reason.
p105 Sam notes that many religions contain a version of the Golden Rule ( Matt 7v12 )Perhaps Sam could be more positive about the ideas most helpful toward Earthly well being found in the Bible and focus attention on them.
Various authors of Bible passages attempt to put a focus on love / care, eg 1 Cor 13v1 & v13.
I think the author of Romans 13v10 missed their chance to assert [in the name of their imagined God] an exact definition of 'harm' in the idea " love does no harm to its neighbour ". My dictionary defines harm -hurt, injury, damage, detrimental. Romans 13v10 could have said, do not cause ill health or suffering, do not cause mental, physical or sexual abuse but i guess you would have to write loads of detail to define that further - this has been one in the 2011 U.K laws
The thing is that if you define God as love as 1 John 4v8 does then how can anyone think that a loving God would let most of humanity suffer for evermore. It would be a complete contradiction. Since there is so much suffering in the world it would be easy to conclude that a perfect loving God does not exist.
If there were some sort of real caring God then you would have islamic leaders updating and ammending old texts to for example advise women to get sunshine on their face for at least an hour each day so their skin can make enough vit D3. I think we all construct our own 'God concept'. Many religions are based on a malware virus infected BASIC operating system and it is time to upgrade to Norton+ Windows 7. The moral landscape by Sam Harris could help the world to do that.
But just say someone thought The End was nigh then what grounds would they have to oppose GM crops, since in their view a mistake wouldn't matter.
Just say someone thought all children go to heaven or God preordained who would go to heaven, then why would they oppose stem cell research or euthanasia of people who clearly had great suffering or no quality of life ? How about trusting the idea of Romans 8v38 "Nothing shall separate us from the love of God." Admittedly there are problems & risks involved & no one should do anything illegal.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Moral Landscape,
This review is from: The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (Hardcover)
Neuroscientist and best-selling author Sam Harris is controversial, argumentative, against religion, in favor of science, deeply moral and intensely rationalist. While he never uses one word if many more will do, Harris's positions on science, morality, religion and brain function prove innovative, well researched, thought provoking, and, if you are of a religious bent, probably infuriating. Harris dissects the evolutionary and biological processes underlying reason, moral choices and faith. He poses scientific counterarguments for religious tenets and dreams of a world where science proves the worth of any moral choice. You may not agree with everything he has to say, but he expresses the point of view of rationalism with thorough conviction. Caught up in explaining philosophical complexities, he seems not to worry whether readers will totally understand all that he says. Even so, getAbstract suggests this interesting, impassioned, philosophical explanation of the rationalist worldview to those who wonder how and why - and even if - people make certain choices, and what their choices mean.
39 of 60 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars If this is meant to be philosophy it is worthless,
If Harris were teaching philosophy at a British university his career would be a short one. If this is meant as a work of philosophy it is worthless. Of course there is nothing more important than clarity of thought about right and wrong. That is why this rant is not worth reading. I`ll give four examples.
Firstly, Harris dismisses Hume`s IS / OUGHT distinction. Literally. Is is mentioned, condemned and Harris passes on.
Sorry - not good enough. Hume is not sacred of course but the argument needs careful discussion and examination, a proper critique before it is condemned. Look at MacIntyre if you want to see how it is done. Try Whose Justice? - Which Rationality?
Secondly most of the book is taken up with a long polemic against religion. Harris wants to show that religion has nothing useful (and many harmful things) to contribute to this debate. If you want to see how this could have been done by a proper philosopher, who shows how moral obligation exists regardless whether or not God or gods exist, try Simon Blackburn`s BEING GOOD especially the chapter on whether Ethics can survive the death of God Being Good: A Short Introduction to Ethics (Blackburn is as much of an atheist as Harris - but he is a philosopher too And for the life of me I cannot understand why Harris is an atheist superstar and Blackburn isn`t. Perhaps he should hire Harris`s literary agent)
Or you could cut straight to the chase and try Plato on the Euthyphro dilemma Defence of Socrates, Euthyphro, Crito (Oxford World's Classics)
Thirdly too much of the book is taken up trying to establish that brain events underlie thought and therefore science, hard science, has something to say about ethics. OK. Brain events underlie all thought - I`ll grant that. So what? All that means is that Wayne Rooney is having a brain event when he either scores or fouls. It doesn`t take us anywhere when it comes to judging one case or the other. All events have physical causes. That is trivially true.
Until (that is a very generous until) we can map brain events to their causal physical and bioelectrical events, this really has nothing to do with ethical thinking. Or really with any kind of thinking. Would it useful for historians to bang on about the underlying biolectrical brain events which led to the Renaissance or the outbreak of World War I?
Finally Harris settles upon Consequentialism as the most scientific of moral philosophies. Fair enough. But you can make a very serious case that Aristotelian virtue theory has just as good a case to be the most rational of moral theories. It doesn`t really get a look in as Harris is so busy explaing why he doesn`t believe in miracles (not strictly relevant to his theme. A recent book by David Fisher fuses both Consequentialism and Virtue Theory to good effect.Morality and War: Can War Be Just in the Twenty-first Century?
So read some or all of these suggestions if you like but I really wouldn`t bother with this book.
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A difficult subject for me to understand but this book explained it well.,
This review is from: The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (Audio CD)
A subject I found to be very interesting but had difficulties working out my thoughts. I am not usually into factual books but this one explained for me the subject. I was not sure how to explain morality effectively listening to this book categorised my feelings. It gave me different perspectives and recognition. I realised that I had been confusing morality with dogma and it was not the same thing. Not the easiest of reads but very worthwhile and I am glad that I have spent the time to listen.
9 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I'm sorry I couldn't finish it (but don't blame me),
I've never written a review for a book that I couldn't finish before, but I'm going to for this one because I don't understand why some people feel it is so great. I was expecting something groundbreaking from this book, but in reality it just seems to be rehash of Utilitarianism and a not very good rehash at that.
Most of the first half of the book appears to be pretty much a religious bashing exercise interspersed with a confused setting out of some 'scientific' concept of value. I saw very little science and very much assertion from the author who just dismisses those who disagree with him as wrong without really explaining why.
However, I did persist hoping that things would get better, but after the authors attempt to stumble through his arguments about the notion of free will and moral responsibility from pp.102-112 I had to give up. I'm not denying that the author is right that neuroscience has shown that humans are just as determined as the rest of nature, but once this is admitted then the concept of value and morality becomes obsolete and trying to change the world for the better becomes meaningless.
If you're going to complain that I should have read the whole book before writing the review then it was not my fault that I didn't finish the book, but the series of events that lead up to the moment that I started writing this review that is to blame, but we cannot blame series of events and so really there is nothing to complain about is there?
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The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris (Paperback - 12 April 2012)