Has anyone read Sam Harris' book, "The Moral Landscape" ? I'm about to start reading on page 113. So far it is a very thought provoking book. He even goes again into the subject of free will and how it is illusory, but that it does not necessarily absolve us of responsibility (unless someone acts in a criminal manner due to, say, a brain tumor or other mental illness). In that particular section of the book he explains that we did not make ourselves the way we are. For example, we did not choose our genomes, or our upbringing. But the main gist of the book is his conviction that ultimately neuroscience will teach us the best way to achieve well-being for the greatest number of people the world over. It is a polemic against present human views of morality and how it is deficient. I highly recommend that anyone who is able ought to read this very good book.

Tags: Harris, Morality, Sam

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I read it and likEd it very much.
At the time we debating what is "good"
and this book offers valuable insights.

Though the book does a fine job of describing
what "morality" should be, what it didn't do
was to tell us WHY we should be good. The only
mention I saw was the logic, "I'm good because
I want to live in a good world". An OK reason
but a little weak, it leaves the door open for
people to only maintain the appearance of being
good while taking advantage while no ones
watching.

JP Carey, I like your response. How would you answer the question, "WHY we should be good"?

My answer is that I/we should be good because we are born social animals and therefore, there is a protocol that helps make groups function better while in groups and guides individuals of the difference between good and bad. The obvious problem, one person's good is another person's bad. How do we straddle that difference between a single individual standing alone and standing with others? 

What is good for one person is to flourish to each one's full potential.

What is good for the group includes supporting each individual person to flourish, to  create goods and services that empower individuals and the group, to participate with others for the common welfare, to develop the minds and skills of each through the use of critical thinking and common action, and to celebrate the goals reached and to develop a common vision for a better future.  

Is it reasonable to think such a society can exist? Perhaps. Is it likely? Probably not. Is it worth the effort? I think so. It is the kind of world in which I would prefer to live. 

Ah, this is much better typing on the laptop rather than the smartphone.

Yes, a very good observation Joan.  That's what we struggled with for awhile, the fact that 'good' & 'bad' occur in the individual first and not out in the world.  One person's good can be another's bad.  A stack of bodies in the corner is 'bad', unless you happen to be the ruthless dictator that put them there, in which case it would be 'good' in the tyrant's mind.

As you said good & bad can change as you widen your circle to include more people. —What's good for me, my family, ...my nation... 

One conclusion that we arrived at is the sensation of 'good'.  Each of us holds both consciously and/or subconsciously an ideal world—the way things should work.  When the reality we observe matches our ideal we say it's 'good'. Alternately when things go against our ideal we perceive 'bad'.

Another conclusion, and this one will give you pause, is that if you don't subscribe to a greater purpose outside of yourself, then 'good' and 'bad' can be whatever you say they are—at the mercy of one's ego.  This plays into that question "why do the religious distrust atheist?".  Because it's unclear what you stand for or where your boundaries should lay.

The Moral Landscape makes a great points.  He says that absolute conclusions about moral issues can't be approached UNTIL we decide what the ultimate purpose of morality is. He states "the maximum well being of conscious creatures" is the highest purpose. (then again you must argue about saving souls or such lunacy as being interpreted for "maximum well being").

Personally, "I'm good because I feel like it" doesn't just fly with me.  It's admirable and there's probably a lot more going on behind that statement that we don't realize.  It smacks of a person who has the appearance of good until they decide to not be.

Yes I have posted about this book in my group on here. It is good.

I agree! 

I have the book but havent read it yet. The philosophical idea that we dont have free will is one that troubles me. Im glad he does not absolve people of responsibility.

The way I understand Harris is that the individual and the group are more responsible because each person or group of people has some reason or justification to be angry, or jealous, or afraid, or grieving and being a mentally healthy adult means overcoming those rationalizations and do what is right, because it is right, morally and ethically. 

I wonder if there is such a think as evidence-based philosophy.  That is my dilemma - unless there is evidence it doesn't work for me.  Evidence can be observational or experimental.  Logic can contribute or be part of hypothesis development, but not the final result.

Example in the practice of medicine.  For decades, theory supported giving estrogen to post-menopausal women.  There was a powerful consensus that estrogen preserved a more youthful state, prevented heart disease and stroke, in addition to preventing osteoporosis.

Then there was the massive Women's Health Initiative, which actually looked at the data.  It turned out, estrogen therapy increased the risk for heart attack and stroke, breast cancers, pulmonary embolism, and dementia.  While there is still debate regarding the risk/benefit ratio, the consensus is that, based on the evidence, estrogen should no longer be given automatically to postmenopausal women.  Theory went one way, but the bottom line is the evidence, which went the other.

Back to philosophy, I don't know how one puts a philosophical tenant to the test.  If it is not testable, it's hard for me to derive meaning.  What do I do with the information.  In particular to free will, does it mean we don't punish abusers?  We can't blame the killer / rapist / swindler / politician, because it is not their doing?  We don't have rewards for exemplary behaviors?  

So I don't know what good it does to talk about free will, if it just means we are paralyzed from acting on behaviors.

How does one test "free will"?  How does one test "determination"?  Not by logic, but empirically.

I'll have to check into that book, Tony. I like Sam Harris.

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