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The Moral Landscape
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62 of 70 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant!
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.

1.Good and bad can not exist in a universe without consciousness. Simple enough.

2.If words like right and wrong or good and bad have any useful meaning they must represent increases in human happiness and well-being and decrease in human happiness and well-being respectively. People will disagree with this premise but I can't think of any definition for the words which doesn't lead to this conclusion, without being so vague as to make the words practically meaningless or a kind of theistic circular tautology where good is what god decides is good because god decides what's good because god decides what's good.

*Some may argue that if a psychopath gets their happiness increased by doing something to make another unhappy or subvert another's well-being then that has proved the above can't be the case. My issue with this is it disregards the effects to others. The pyschopath has decreased happiness and well-being of another. Similarly If someone helps another person and increases another's happiness and well-being but in the process has their own happiness and well-being diminished then that would almost certainly be called a good act. The increased happiness/well-being of the other would counter all but the most extreme negative effects to the helper. So surely the same is true for the negative effects felt by another after a psychopaths act. Any peak on the moral landscape will inevitably move closer to 0 if there is a psychopath present acting in ways which make other people worse off. The peaks are not binary representations of good/bad so its makes sense for good to be present in valleys and bad in peaks, the effect will simply be to move the peak/valleys closer to 0.

3.Our ability to feel is due to changes in the brain which can be measured, they are "facts about the universe" as Sam Harris calls them.(Neuro-chemical changes and alterations in cellular activity cause us to feel an emotion, depending what cells are doing and which neurotransmitters are being used to signal other cells) So are objectively true about the universe.

4.The changes in brain activity can be caused by our environment.

So imagine 2 scenarios
Person 1 is someone in an environment which causes that person to have relevant changes in their brain which makes them feel happy.
Person 2 is someone in an environment which causes that person to have relevant changes in their brain which makes them feel sadness and pain.

Person 1 is objectively better off and the environment he is in is objectively good where as person 2 is objectively worse off and the environment is objectively bad.

Therefore we can objectively say that certain ways of treating fellow human beings are bad and others are good.

Harris suggests that the environments which create or increase human happiness and well being can be represented by "peaks" on a graph and those that create or increase sadness and pain the "valleys" of the graph. He suggests moving society toward and along "peaks" on "the moral landscape" can demonstrate a selection of routes, there may be many routes across various peaks, which are demonstrably good for human societies. With the travelling through the valleys its antithesis.

That's it. So why all the completely off topic criticisms?

Obviously there are some grey areas, some are discussed, and this works better with more extreme examples at the moment but perhaps that will change with time as more people consider this idea.

.... and for the record, I don't think DrDee has read the book(find the review and give it a read)
I suspect DrDee listened to this frankly awful debate which is plugged in the review(i am listening to it at the moment and both debaters are doing a poor job) and he/she tried to pick up the gist of the book from it and have an rant.

To anyone that else that seeks out the debate, a warning. William Lane Craig is a amazingly skilled debater.... because he is one of the most eloquent BS merchants you will ever come across and is notorious for strawmaning any and every opposition to his ideas. Its a good job hell isn't real because his dishonesty would be cause for concern if it was.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 2 May 2014
I love how Sam Harris explains that some philosophical theories just increase "the total amount of boredom" in the world. If you want to read something about ethics that is applicable to the real world, and not boring at all, this book a good option. I agree with the importance he gives to increasing human well-being, and he can write about difficult subjects without making it boring or confusing. I strongly recommend it.
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70 of 81 people found the following review helpful
on 24 January 2011
There is no more important debate. How do we decide what is right and wrong?

Most of the answers we hear are worthless (ranging from "just do it because my holy book says so" to the moral relativists who wont even condemn female genital mutilation).

Sam Harris makes the case for a sane alternative...

Morality is an evolved human attribute. It is universal - everyone with a normal brain has it. We all know instinctively what is good (love, kindness, compassion...) and what is evil (hatred, cruelty, violence...).

Understanding this basis for morality has a priceless reward - we can expect to arrive at a consensus. There is an objective morality because we are all human. And we can discover the details by studying the human mind. Evolutionary psychology - not a religious text - is the route to enlightenment.

If our civilisation survives this century it will be because we have learnt how to judge moral issues. This book is an excellent primer. Please read it.
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on 19 November 2014
This was a very enlightening book, and might be my favorite one from Sam Harris. Given that Harris is considered one of the most formidable "new atheists", people will look at this book as anti-religious (which it certainly is). But it's important not to overstate that element; Harris is just suggesting that there are other places to get your morals and values besides a holy book.

Much of Harris's argument deals with the idea of suffering. The more we know about science (in particular neuroscience and the brain), the more we are learning are the nuance of suffering. There are different types of suffering, the most obvious one related to physical pain; and we essentially know that all conscious creatures have the capacity to suffer. Harris's discussion of morals boils down the goal of minimizing suffering; as he states it, avoiding "the worst possible misery for everyone".

It's a great book that's has it's moments of difficulty, but in general is a fairly easy and enjoyable read. I think any book that examines morality in any capacity is one worth taking a look at.

After reading the book, I viewed some of Harris's public speaking engagements. He often repeats many of the ideas in his book in these lectures/debate (which can be found online) - so they are worth a watch if you want to reinforce the ideas found within.
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29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 23 January 2011
The author makes an interesting argument. Science obviously has lots to say and reveal about morality - the problem is that we have not been allowed or willing to listen, or we didn't have the tools to find and then answer the questions.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It wasn't about bashing religion, rather it was about science and its role in revealing human morality and values. The approach was refreshing and while it was not a long or difficult read, it still made me think and reflect.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to explore the topic of morality and how it has and is developing in our societies.
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on 6 April 2014
I was disappointed. The prospect of science measured morality would seem as callous as any ideology dealing out justice and fairness etc on one hand and in equal measure injustice. Humanity is too complicated for one size fits all of any type. I believe as long as there is flexibility in whatever system exists, we can inch our way forwards with minor adjustments towards utopia, although we will never get there because wisdom is always overtaken by ignorance. It's a fact of life that as soon as you know everything you need to know, you die. No one ever knows what they need to know before any event, they can only experiment. Look to human nature for the repeated behaviours. Some young people do not want to participate in voting. We could go back to dictatorships in this country if their naievety about democracy has any effect.

The book was academic to the point of boredom and silliness. I usually finish any book just to check there are no hidden gems, but this time I did myself a favour about two thirds of the way through and skimmed the rest. There wen't any hidden gems, but there was loads of evidence.
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on 24 April 2011
Very easy to read and clearly written, without any of the abrasivenss that come sometimes be found in books in this area.

It is important that humanity aspires to achieve higher levels of morality, and that we don't leave this field as the exclusive preserve of religion. It is becoming clearer over time that religions of all types are trying to drag humanity down to a state of gross immmorality.

Harris encourages us to work out those moral issues in a more objective way, and suggests a methodolgy to do so.

He doesn't attempt to give all the answers, and the author comes across as being humble and non dogmatic.

I hope this book will encourage further debate and progress on this important subject. The future of humankind may depend on it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 8 August 2013
This book will have your mind spinning long after you put it down. Read this. it will change your life. Brilliant.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 September 2014
Perhaps it is just that I am thick, but found this hard going, perhaps my lack of university education was an obstacle, but find Stenger, Dawkins, and Dennett much more straightforward; even Bertrand Russell got to the point of an argument quicker!
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on 13 August 2014
An excellent discussion of morality which places the emphasis on the impacts of well-being (human or animals). This book makes the case that as well-being can be measured scientifically, morality can be judged scientifcally. I recommend you read this book after being introduced to wider areas of moral philosophy to fully appreciate the arguments. The arguments for and against moral consequentialism, deontology etc will be useful. However, this book does not require this prior reading, it just is enriched by it.
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