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Customer Review

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A mix of weak arguments and sound debate, 20 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: The Moral Landscape (Paperback)
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 existence of objective morality, the conflict between science and religion, the biological nature of belief and various cognitive biases.

I personally agree with Harris that science can help to promote human well-being, but I disagree that there exists an objective moral code. However, books can be well-written, interesting and enlightening even if one does not agree with the arguments put forward. In this particular case, however, I must admit that I found Harris' arguments to be somewhat muddled and meriting criticism on several accounts. This is the reason for my choosing to give the book only three stars. Apart from his ideas about morality, however, Harris also spends considerable time discussion the utilitarian value (or lack of the same) of science and religion, and these parts of the book are quite sensible and represents, in my view, a part of an important debate.

The following are two particular points where I found Harris' arguments to be lacking:

-Throughout the book, Harris criticises moral relativism, understood as the idea that "good and bad is subjective, and all such subjective moral claims are a priori equally valid". Harris points out many consequences of this moral relativism which are bad in utilitarian terms. Harris appears throughout to imply that we must choose between two alternatives: moral relativism and moral realism (that is, the existence of objective moral statemets), and as moral relativism is unacceptable, moral realism is forced upon us. This argument is incorrect, as there exists several middle grounds: for example the variant of moral relativism claiming that good and bad is subjective, but not that we must think that all moral claims are a priori equally valid. For example, I might sensibly hold the following opinions: 1. What is maximizing happiness is good. 2. That this is my subjective opinion and not an objectively true statement. 3. All the same, I am quite entitled to attempt to convince and even force others to subject to my conception of morality instead of, say, ideas about that rape victims should be stoned. Such claims imply acceptance of the subjectivity of morals while simultaneously holding that universal tolerance of moral diversity is not required.

-Harris repeatedly argues that morals must be construed in terms of well-being of conscious creatures. This is in several cases done by example, for example by arguing that nobody in their right mind would claim that a life of happiness, meaningful work, love and health is not preferable to a meaningless life filled with pain, sorrow and loneliness. Such examples demonstrate that the majority of people agree on certain parts of morality, but does not prove that morals are objective: Even if all humans held that red is prettier than blue, this would not make it an objective fact that red is prettier than blue. Furthermore, as regards the basis of morality, it is quite conceivable that someone would argue that for example freedom or equality is better than pure utility. Harris' claim that goodness equals well-being in a universal sense appears unconvincing and based on anecdote and example rather than logical argument.

Summing up, I fould that Harris touches upon some important issues of our day, but his arguments are in several cases lacking in quality.
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Location: Copenhagen, Denmark

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