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39 of 64 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars If this is meant to be philosophy it is worthless, 26 Oct. 2011
This review is from: The Moral Landscape (Hardcover)
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.
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Tracked by 6 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 12 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 8 Nov 2011 20:21:42 GMT
There are many aspects of this review with which I concur. Certainly Harris is not as great a writer as many of the authors that are mentioned in the review. Reading widely across the philosophical literature can be a source of great joy and fun.

With regards to the review, I'd ask the following: Is it true that if 'Brain events underlie all thought ...' that this '...is "trivially" true'? Or is it rather the case that now we are starting to get a better grip on understanding the brain, we are more aware of different driving forces for behaviour? Another way of posing this is to ask if the reviewer really thinks that moral philosophy need not take into account the biological basis of behaviour? Darwin, in promoting his idea of natural selection, drew our attention toward the variety inherent in nature. Much of the variety amongst humans is psychological/neurological and such events as the locating of a genetic mutation (such as is the case with HTR2B genes in Finland) may well change how we think about morality.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Nov 2011 14:18:14 GMT
F. Roberts says:
Thank you. I await the developments which will establish whether Harris is right or not with interest.

Posted on 21 Nov 2011 21:34:31 GMT
Mr. T Holton says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Nov 2011 14:28:07 GMT
Last edited by the author on 24 Nov 2011 14:28:53 GMT
Vegplanet says:
T Holton
I think you have summoned up a red herring here. Fashion sense surely belongs to the field of personal taste, rather than ethics. Harris would not suggest that a scientific, analytical approach would be useful in this instance.

You have not yet explained what form your alternative to Harris' analytical, robust utilitarian approach to morality would take. I presume the cornerstone would be some notion of a transcendent, celestial moraility, inherent in a supposed supernatural entity. There are several problems with this position: firstly the nature of this absolute morality is debatable. In the field of Christianity, numerous denominations exist which would make differing claims about the teachings of `God'. ..

Secondly, the euthyphro dilemma raises its head. Even if we had a clear outline of a morality prescribed by a celestial supernatural entity, why should it follow that this morality is compelling?

I must conclude that Harris approach, founded upon research based factors and axiomatic common sense, is the best available to us

Posted on 24 Nov 2011 18:26:21 GMT
Last edited by the author on 24 Nov 2011 18:29:22 GMT
Vegplanet says:
F Roberts
I would firstly like to take you to task for for your usage of the term 'rant' This sort of language seems endemic in critiques of 'anti theist' literature. I find the use of the term disproportionate here. It also tends to suggest that you may not be approaching the subject matter from a neutral standpoint.

The whole premise of Harris' book is that the is/ ought distinction can be tackled using scientific evaluation and research pertaining to the ramifications of certain behaviours on states of the brain and the wellbeing of sentient beings. His case is more widereaching than you credit I would suggest

I think you haver misunderstood the motives of Harris in writing this book if you think that he sought largely to establish the connection between brain events and science. His case is rather that many individuals are predisposed to certain behavious , owing to scientific, neurological factors. He gives examples of certain compulsive behaviours exhibited by individuals, over which they perhaps have limited control.
This is purely a side issue to his main thesis, which is the definition of a morality based upon science and research.

I'm sure the books you mention are all very interesting reading, but feel you have underestimated Harris work.

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Nov 2011 16:53:05 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 27 Nov 2011 16:53:52 GMT]

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Dec 2011 14:11:01 GMT
F. Roberts says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Jan 2012 00:21:40 GMT
R Daniels says:
So you did not rate the book but rated how much you dislike Harris.
I figured as much.

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Mar 2012 18:26:24 GMT
The use of the word 'rant' simply describes views with which the user strongly disagrees - as such, any such use of the word in this context (as opposed to, say, describing a speech by Hitler) destroys the credibility of the user as someone not prepared to consider the thesis in an impartial manner. The anger is usually prompted from a permutation of prejudices - religious faith, a need to believe in free will, a love of relativism - all of them beliefs sinking beneath the tide of progress. Such a person is bound to hate this book - probably one of the most important to be written so far this century - the way we view the world will never be the same again.

In reply to an earlier post on 17 Apr 2012 23:35:57 BDT
Last edited by the author on 17 Apr 2012 23:37:14 BDT
Strident instead of rant is perhaps a better less inflammatory choice of word. It is the measure of a persons maturity and intelligence when becoming involved in a debate as white hot as this that emotions are kept in check. This is where fundamentalists are so dangerous, no dialogue will be entered into. What kind of morality do fundamentalists possess?, if they could get laid, chill out and kick back without the dreadful pressures unfairly put upon them by their prevailing dogmas the 72 virgins would not seem quite so desperately attractive and the trigger finger just might ease off a wee bit, I think like Harris does that its too late, more 24/7's are imminent.
I have to admit this debate is somewhat above my head ( I'm a visual artist with a sad history of avoiding academia and books but I'm sticking with it as best I can)
Whether you like Harris or not this book has to be important, its the catalyst for this debate so thats a success..yes? Congratulations to everyone above, right or wrong. Keep it going, its the correct thing to do.
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