The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

by Sam Harris

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781439171219
Publisher: Free Press
Publication date: 10/05/2010
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Sam Harris is the author of the bestselling books The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape, Free Will, and Lying. The End of Faith won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction. His writing has been published in over fifteen languages. Dr. Harris is cofounder and CEO of Project Reason, a nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. He received a degree in philosophy from Stanford University and a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA. Please visit his website at SamHarris.org.

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Moral Landscape 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 96 reviews.
Aramink More than 1 year ago
My book club read this and never has there been a more fierce debate about a book! We actually met two weeks in a row so we could continue the discussion, and we probably could have met a third time and not run out of things to discuss. Like his other books, The Moral Landscape is written in an understsandable prose. It is not meant for a casual reader, though. Our members who listened to it on the audiobook seemed too get the most out of it. The idea that our basic morals are hardwired into us and into our animal cousins is remarkable. Harris backs up his theory with hypotheses tested in his lab, and even traveled to Africa to work with bonobos and chimps. Whether or not one eventually agrees with his theory, this book is a fascinating, morally conscious, treatise on something that makes us uniquely human.
RolfDobelli More than 1 year ago
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.
thetascape More than 1 year ago
A well written exploration of the possibility of a scientific basis for human morality. Will be interesting to follow the progress of this line of thought. Sam Harris raises tough questions and offers some exciting answers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sam Harris does a fair job of communicating how religion and culture have failed to find common ground for global moral consideration. But he has failed to show how morality can be universally identified and packaged to fit everyone. Harris brings into focus the issue of fundamental human "well-being", but his goal is rather utopian to say the least. There are simply too many variables in the human experience and neuroscience is not going to corner the market on moral behavior. Harris and others are trying to do with morality what Evolutionary Psychology has tried to do with mapping the human mind. The theory is good, but in practice is has lost its footing.
CoryW More than 1 year ago
This book was a little over my head. Okay, way over. But the main point about how morality should be based on well-being and how this is something science can give input on like it does with health, is awesome. The only reason I haven't given it five stars is because I only give five stars to books I totally get.
heina on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had seen Harris speak on this book before I read it, and honestly, I was disappointed that the book had almost less content in it than his lecture. Harris succeeds at providing a framework by which to navigate the idea that religious people don't have a monopoly on morality and that you can logically set up an objective morality without religion. However, he does not suggest how we might actually implement this morality, i.e. how would we convince people that this is a compelling and reasonable argument. Furthermore, his footnotes' defense of James Watson's racist remarks make it seem like he does not understand the history of racial issues in the Western world. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and although I understand that cultural relativism is a problem, ignoring the history of racism in the Western world is not exactly a solution. Overall, I would say that the book is worth reading, but that it is sorely lacking in terms of suggesting actual action and implementation.
deusvitae on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The author's attempt to establish a moral system of values using scientific principles.I can agree with the author that there is right and wrong-- it's a sad commentary on society when this is something that has to even be addressed. I can even appreciate the scientific research and the use of that research in helping to anchor a concept of morality and moral living.But, as usual, Harris takes everything beyond its proper bounds. He continues to kick against the goads of the limitations of science relative to other fields; toward the end, he admits that he has entered the realm of philosophy, but still wants to cling to the pretense of science. Of course, in so doing, he distorts the nature of what science is and what science can tell-- a sure sign of overreach. Trying to bring everything down to the level of maximizing well-being sounds great in theory. But who gets to determine well-being? How can science analyze a value that is rooted in such subjectivism? And how can science declare x to be consistent with maximizing well-being, and y is not? Brain scans? What does a brain scan tell you about the actual function? This is not to say that values do not exist, nor that science has nothing to say about them-- but science cannot get one to a full moral system. This book is a wonderful display of scientism and its sophomoric arrogance-- the presumption of what can be understood from nascent forms of scientific inquiry. The conclusions are far from scientific and there will likely be much that will prove embarrassing in the future when things are better understood and seen as more complex than is being admitted now. It is akin to the know-it-all nature of a teenager; hopefully, as with such a teenager, the damage can be minimized until a better idea of perspective can be learned and humility swallowed.And it's difficult to believe much of what Harris has to say about religion. If he spent half the time seeking to understand what he distorts, he might have a different view of things. How is what he does and the way he does it any better than that which he attempts to condemn by strawman arguments?
haig51 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am sympathetic to Harris' attempt at framing morality on scientific grounds, and so I was biased in his favor prior to reading this book, however, though I enjoyed his thoughts and agree with his efforts, I certainly expected more. My summary of his main thesis, which I agree with, is that morality should be based on maximizing the well-being of conscious agents. He, admittedly, ambiguously defines well-being as those brain-states that are synonymous with flourishing or what the Greeks called Eudaimonia. The details of these brain-states are open questions left to be answered by scientists, but he stresses that even if such questions are not answered in practice does not mean they are unanswerable in theory and thus we can climb our way towards peaks of well-being on a landscape of experience, and morality should guide us towards maximizing those peaks. Many of Harris' critics reiterate David Hume's is/ought distinction as the last word on this issue, and though Harris does attack this line of thinking, I don't think he completely remedies their concerns. The crux of this issue is why we should adhere to the assumption that well-being ought to be maximized. He comes awfully close to a rebuttal many times throughout the book, but never completes the argument. He more than successfully argues why science can and should inform our morality in achieving these states of well-being, but does not address the fundamental issue of why we should do those things in the first place. Yes, our brains evolved to include our innate moral intuitions as a result of surviving in close social contact with others, but unless you make the claim that evolution has a point or direction (which I doubt, but am also sympathetic towards) then what we consider well-being is an arbitrarily evolved brain state of an arbitrarily evolved organism. It matters to us as we sit here today as already evolved primates bumbling about, of course, but if we were to restart the whole process of life, the universe, and everything, why would it be moral to have organisms experiencing well-being at all rather than nothing? Alternatively, what if a certain subset of humans, if able, decided to relocate to another planet and modify their brains so that everyone was a psychopath and masochism and ruthless survival was the cultural norm--what argument is there to stop them from doing that? You might argue that this is an unstable social state and they would quickly go extinct or else revert back to some sort of cooperation and morality similar to our own evolved morals, but that is a much stronger metaphysical claim, that our morality and brain-states are baked into the structure of the universe. Robert Wright takes this perspective in his latest books Nonzero and The Evolution of God, but I somehow doubt Harris agrees with him. If we forgive Sam Harris for failing to deliver on the promise of revolutionizing the is/ought dichotomy, we can still appreciate the book as contributing an important mode of thinking within morality by extrapolating on the concept of a moral landscape, that morality is more of an optimization problem instead of a black and white codification of things one ought to do or not do. This is not necessarily groundbreaking, but it is useful and important.
ClifSven on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sam Harris continues to astound and astonish me with his insights! I always learn something new and amazing from reading his books. He also gives me vast new ways of seeing things. Always worth the time and effort to read him!!!
AshRyan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Despite his vague support for environmentalism, and his tendency to commit the fallacy of composition when discussing human well-being or flourishing as the standard of value and arriving at a sort of utilitarian ethics, most of Harris's latest book is extremely good.His basic argument that conservative intrinsicism and liberal subjectivism is a false alternative and that moral realism requires only that values be epistemologically objective, not ontologically objective, and that this criterion can be met, is sound and important. The book is full of clear and insightful examples, often humorous and sometimes horrifying (although he does tend to slip into irrelevant "lifeboat scenarios" on occasion).Unfortunately, he occasionally takes a wrong turn and his ability to reason so clearly and cut through the nonsense permeating both sides of the culture seems to temporarily abandon him, such as the end of the second chapter in which he gives a lot of blatantly self-contradictory behaviorist arguments that free will is an illusion (which clearly undercuts the entire project he's undertaken in the rest of the book). The philosophical implications he draws from the results of neuroscience in chapter three are also badly mixed, in both content and method. But he gets back on track in chapters four and five.Harris basically presents ethics as principles for flourishing life---not dogmatic rules or subjective whims (both of which are arbitrary). So, overall, The Moral Landscape (or at least parts of it) gets my nomination for best half a book of 2010.
Niecierpek on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In a nutshell, Harris argues that morality should be considered an undeveloped branch of science, and questions about values- about meaning, morality, and life¿s larger purpose- are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures. Values therefore translate into facts that can be scientifically understood, and easily quantifiable. Meaning, values, morality must relate to facts about conscious creatures and must relate to the states of the conscious brain. Circumstances in the life of a conscious creature that are conducive to happy and safe life in harmony with others contribute to the increased well-being of that creature, and should be considered morally sound, whereas circumstances that diminish it through cruelty, hatred, terror, etc., should be considered morally wrong. He calls it a science of human flourishing and argues that religion isn¿t necessary to know what¿s morally sound and what¿s not. I found the thesis for this book morally and scientifically satisfying, yet rated it down because Harris kept repeating himself, and also perhaps because I was already familiar with some of the research he quoted.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Mr. Harris has put time and effort into this book. It's well researched and philosophical at points in the book. He doesn't mince words and I needed a dictionary by my side to get through some of the jargon. Nevertheless, I found it insightful and well worth the time spent reading the book.
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