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Customer Review

212 of 261 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's the Beginning, not the End, of the Debate, October 5, 2010
This review is from: The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values (Hardcover)
Sam Harris has written a simple, yet extraordinarily powerful book about the "science of morality" and it is quite a revelation. He cuts through the cloudy thinking of religion and relativism to get at the heart of the problem: How do we as human beings maximize our well being?

Harris provides no hard and fast answers, he is attempting to lay the foundations here. He is not, like Moses, stumbling off Mt. Sinai with stone tablets emblazoned with the "truth," he is merely sketching out how we might orient ourselves to best tackle the mountain ourselves.

Refreshing and brilliant.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 5, 2010 8:47:07 AM PDT
T'sinadree says:
As usual, Harris offers more rhetorical posturing than substance. His position is utilitarianism guised as science and, as a result, many people will unfortunately be inclined to see what he's doing as new, and will agree with him.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, writing in the New York Times, has some very different things to say about this book:

"In fact, what he ends up endorsing is something very like utilitarianism, a philosophical position that is now more than two centuries old, and that faces a battery of familiar problems. Even if you accept the basic premise, how do you compare the well-being of different people? Should we aim to increase average well-being (which would mean that a world consisting of one bliss case is better than one with a billion just slightly less blissful people)? Or should we go for a cumulative total of well-being (which might favor a world with zillions of people whose lives are just barely worth living)? If the mental states of conscious beings are what matter, what's wrong with killing someone in his sleep? How should we weigh present well-being against future well-being?"

"It's not that Harris is unaware of these questions, exactly. He refers to the work of Derek Parfit, who has done more than any philosopher alive to explore such difficulties. But having acknowledged some of these complications, he is inclined to push them aside and continue down his path."

And in conclusion:
"Yet such science is best appreciated with a sense of what we can and cannot expect from it, and a real contribution to the old project of a "naturalized ethics" would have required a fuller engagement with its contradictions and complications. Instead, the landscape that the book calls to mind is that of a city a few days after a snowstorm. A marvelously clear avenue stretches before us, but the looming banks to either side betray how much has been unceremoniously swept aside."

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 5, 2010 11:49:04 AM PDT
J. Blilie says:

Any thoughts of your own? Have you read the book?

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 5, 2010 1:19:19 PM PDT
oo0OO0oo says:
T'sinadree: Please stop trolling/spamming.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 5, 2010 1:28:37 PM PDT
S. Corleone says:
T'sinadree- here's something for you from family guy.....

"no I haven't read any of your books, but I've read what others, who say they've read your books, say and I believe them....."

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 5, 2010 11:36:32 PM PDT
J. Saxton says:
T'sinadree - Stop spamming these forums. You clearly have an axe to grind yet you cannot speak for yourself. That in itself speaks volumes. Get lost.

Posted on Oct 8, 2010 3:34:58 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Feb 4, 2013 9:52:13 PM PST
Mr. Ahlquist,

Thanks for your review. I agree with your claims that Harris simply tries to lay some foundations for approaching the "science of morality" in this book. None of his suggestions are new and others like Michael Shermer have offered a similar analysis and thesis in The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule. I was disappointed that there was very little empirical evidence mentioned from Harris' new field or even even other scientific fields in support of his thesis. The title of the book is misleading in this sense since there isn't much natural science to be found in the book, only some stuff every once in a while from the social sciences.

All of his arguments have been mentioned before on morality and "well being". Discourse of morality is already under the study of the natural and social sciences either way and have been for a very long time. For instance, Handbook of Violence. As mentioned earlier, Michael Shermer did a similar study of morality and even has "provisional morality" like Harris argues throughout the book in "The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule". Here too Michael Shermer does not provide much empirical support for his thesis, but does a philosophical and sociological look at morality and moral questions of actions - just like everyone else in any given field like law or social working. This is nothing new since politicians and lawyers and people in the military are always revising issues and actions involving people and their relations to others and they try many different approaches and makes studies to resolve moral issues all the time. They are very active in making uniform moral studies in search of better moral resolutions to issues people face. Another example, just mere sociologists often give information on social issues treating gangs and criminals. They usually give recommendations for prevention of forming gangs and also recommendations for rehabilitating gangsters such as Youth Gangs in American Society (Contemporary Issues in Crime and Justice Series).

Again, people involved in law and law enforcement have already gone through many measures of dealing with issues of morality for citizens and often time they experiment with different approaches to moral issues that involve families and communities. In fact all cultures, past and present, experiment a little with morality to see what works best in maintaining order and peaceful states of mind. Other branches of science are also studying moral topics such as Bioethics which already deals with issues in the medical field such as autonomy and consent in issues of abortion and euthanasia. Medical doctors, biologists, molecular biologists, chemists, and biochemists all have already many things to say on moral issues involving medicine and health in bioethics and in doing so they have exercised their rights to promote what they see as "well being".

Psychologists have done research on childhoods and the impacts of domestic violence, divorce, and verbal abuses too. This book has not really introduced much new material since the only thing that is noticeable is that Harris wants more activism in the fields which already study moral questions. There already is, but I guess he wants more.

Good short review man.
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