Online reading group and book discussion forum
  HOME FORUMS BOOKS LINKS DONATE ADVERTISE CONTACT  
View unanswered posts | View active topics It is currently Wed Apr 23, 2014 10:22 pm



Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 4 posts ] • Topic evaluate: Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average. 
NY Times review of The Moral landscape 
Author Message
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
pets endangered by possible book avalanche

Gold Contributor 2

Joined: Jan 2008
Posts: 4902
Location: Berryville, Virginia
Thanks: 1071
Thanked: 1025 times in 798 posts
Gender: Male
Country: United States (us)

Post NY Times review of The Moral landscape
I thought this review was not too long to paste it into the post. Some readers don't like to read reviews before the book, so feel free to ignore.

By KWAME ANTHONY
Published: October 1, 2010

Sam Harris heads the youth wing of the New Atheists. “The End of Faith,” his blistering take-no-­prisoners attack on the irrationality of religions, found him many fans and, not surprisingly, a great body of detractors. In “Letter to a Christian Nation,” a follow-up prompted by the responses of Christians unhappy with his first book, he set out, he said, “to demolish the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms,” and so acquired, no doubt, more friends and more enemies. Certainly both books have had a wide and animated readership.

His new book, “The Moral Landscape,” aims to meet head-on a claim he has often encountered when speaking out against religion: that the scientific worldview he favors has nothing to say on moral questions. That claim often keeps company with the thesis, elaborated by the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, that science and religion have “nonoverlapping magisteria.” The authority of science and the authority of religion cover different domains, Gould thought, and the methods of each are inappropriate for the study of the other’s problems. Religion deals with questions about what Harris calls “meaning, morality and life’s larger purpose,” questions that have no scientific answers.

Harris, who has a doctorate in neuroscience, holds the opposite view. Only science can help us answer these questions, he says. That’s because truths about morality and meaning must “relate to facts about the well-being of conscious creatures,” and science alone — especially neuroscience, his field — can uncover those facts. So rather than consulting Aristotle or Kant (let alone the Bible or the Koran) about what is necessary for humans to flourish, why not go to the sciences that study conscious mental life?

Harris means to deny a thought often ascribed to David Hume, according to which there is a clear conceptual distinction between facts and values. Facts are susceptible of rational investigation; values, supposedly, not. But according to Harris, values, too, can be uncovered by science — the right values being ones that promote well-being. “Just as it is possible for individuals and groups to be wrong about how best to maintain their physical health,” he writes, “it is possible for them to be wrong about how to maximize their personal and social well-being.”

But wait: how do we know that the morally right act is, as Harris posits, the one that does the most to increase well-being, defined in terms of our conscious states of mind? Has science really revealed that? If it hasn’t, then the premise of Harris’s all-we-need-is-science argument must have nonscientific origins.

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.

That’s the case even with something as basic as what’s meant by well-being. Harris often writes as if all that matters is our conscious experience. Yet he also insists that truth is an important value. So does it count against your well-being if your happiness is based on an illusion — say, the false belief that your wife loves you? Or is subjective experience all that matters, in which case a situation in which the husband is fooled, and the wife gets pleasure from fooling him, is morally preferable to one in which she acknowledges the truth? Harris never articulates his central claim clearly enough to let us know where he would come down. But if he thinks that well-being has an objective component, one wants to know how science revealed this fact.

Harris was a philosophy major at Stanford, but he is inclined to scant most of what philosophers have had to say about well-being. There is, for example, a movement in contemporary philosophy and economics known as “the capabilities approach,” which takes seriously the question of identifying the components of well-being and measuring them. But neither of the two leading exponents of this approach — the philosopher and economist Amartya Sen and the philosopher and classicist Martha Nussbaum — gets a mention in the book.

The most compelling strand in “The Moral Landscape” is its unspooling diatribe against relativism. Harris insists that there are correct answers to all questions of right and wrong, regardless of anyone’s culture or religion. And, though some questions may escape our inquiries, many can be answered by science; none, he appears to think, can be answered without it.

You might suppose, reading this book, that this anti-relativism was controversial among philosophers. So it may be worth pointing out that a recent survey of a large proportion of the world’s academic philosophers revealed that they are more than twice as likely to favor moral realism — the view that there are moral facts — than to favor moral anti-realism. Two thirds of them, it turns out, are also what we call cognitivists, believing that many (and perhaps all) moral claims are either true or false. And Harris himself concedes that few philosophers “have ever answered to the name of ‘moral relativist.’ ” Given that, he might have spent more time with some of the many arguments against relativism that philosophers have offered. If he had, he might have noticed that you can hold that there are moral truths that can be rationally investigated without holding that the experimental sciences provide the right methods for doing so.

Still, there’s plenty of interest in “The Moral Landscape.” Harris draws our attention to the fact that “science increasingly allows us to identify aspects of our minds that cause us to deviate from norms of factual and moral reasoning.” And when he stays closest to neuroscience, he says much that is interesting and important: about the limits of functional magnetic resonance imaging as a tool for studying brain function; about the current understanding of psychopaths (whose brains display “significantly less activity in regions of the brain that generally respond to emotional stimuli”); about the similarities in the ways in which moral and nonmoral belief seem to be handled in the brain. I found myself wishing for less of the polemic against religion, which recurs often and takes up one entire chapter — he has had two bites of that apple already, and will soon be reduced to gnawing at the core — and I wanted more of the illumination that comes from our increasing understanding of neuroscience.

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.


_________________
Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun.

Clifford Geertz


Thu Dec 16, 2010 7:21 pm
Profile Email
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
BookTalk.org Moderator

BookTalk.org Moderator
Silver Contributor
Book Discussion Leader

Joined: Oct 2010
Posts: 1230
Thanks: 133
Thanked: 475 times in 349 posts
Gender: Male

Post Re: NY Times review of The Moral landscape
Another one with the "new atheist" label. What is new about it? A newly released book?

Otherwise it seems to make some reasonable criticisms, although I haven't read the book yet.

It is premature to comment, but having watched his video presentation, it seems like Harris is tackling the "easy cases" rather than the hard ones -- a strict Islamic society is "bad," despite what the relativists say, for example.



Thu Dec 16, 2010 9:19 pm
Profile Email
User avatar
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
pets endangered by possible book avalanche

Gold Contributor 2

Joined: Jan 2008
Posts: 4902
Location: Berryville, Virginia
Thanks: 1071
Thanked: 1025 times in 798 posts
Gender: Male
Country: United States (us)

Post Re: NY Times review of The Moral landscape
Dexter wrote:
Another one with the "new atheist" label. What is new about it? A newly released book?

Otherwise it seems to make some reasonable criticisms, although I haven't read the book yet.

It is premature to comment, but having watched his video presentation, it seems like Harris is tackling the "easy cases" rather than the hard ones -- a strict Islamic society is "bad," despite what the relativists say, for example.

I think the new atheist label was applied to the writers who after 9/11 came forward much more visibly with their criticisms of religion, deciding that the best strategy was to take the label that everyone threw at them as an accusation and wear it proudly.

"But wait: how do we know that the morally right act is, as Harris posits, the one that does the most to increase well-being, defined in terms of our conscious states of mind? Has science really revealed that? If it hasn’t, then the premise of Harris’s all-we-need-is-science argument must have nonscientific origins."

Maybe the question above is one we'll find to be crucial.


_________________
Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun.

Clifford Geertz


Thu Dec 16, 2010 11:56 pm
Profile Email
Years of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membershipYears of membership
Masters


Joined: Jul 2005
Posts: 450
Location: Sunnyvale, CA
Thanks: 5
Thanked: 43 times in 34 posts
Gender: None specified

Post Re: NY Times review of The Moral landscape
That review is more positive than expected, given the weaknesses of End of Faith. However, I'm still not inclined to read the new book, since there are probably better books about the philosophical foundations of morality.



Sat Dec 25, 2010 11:13 pm
Profile
Display posts from previous:  Sort by  
Post new topic Reply to topic  [ 4 posts ] • Topic evaluate: Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average.Evaluations: 0, 0.00 on the average. 



Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests


You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot post attachments in this forum

Search for:

BookTalk.org Links 
Forum Rules & Tips
Frequently Asked Questions
BBCode Explained
Info for Authors & Publishers
Featured Book Suggestions
Author Interview Transcripts
Be a Book Discussion Leader!
    

Love to talk about books but don't have time for our book discussion forums? For casual book talk join us on Facebook.

Featured Books






BookTalk.org is a free book discussion group or online reading group or book club. We read and talk about both fiction and non-fiction books as a group. We host live author chats where booktalk members can interact with and interview authors. We give away free books to our members in book giveaway contests. Our booktalks are open to everybody who enjoys talking about books. Our book forums include book reviews, author interviews and book resources for readers and book lovers. Discussing books is our passion. We're a literature forum, or reading forum. Register a free book club account today! Suggest nonfiction and fiction books. Authors and publishers are welcome to advertise their books or ask for an author chat or author interview.


Navigation 
MAIN NAVIGATION

HOMEFORUMSBOOKSTRANSCRIPTSOLD FORUMSADVERTISELINKSFAQDONATETERMS OF USEPRIVACY POLICY

BOOK FORUMS FOR ALL BOOKS WE HAVE DISCUSSED
Science Was Born of Christianity - by Stacy TrasancosThe Happiness Hypothesis - by Jonathan HaidtA Game of Thrones - by George R. R. MartinTempesta's Dream - by Vincent LoCocoWhy Nations Fail - by Daron Acemoglu and James RobinsonThe Drowning Girl - Caitlin R. KiernanThe Consolations of the Forest - by Sylvain TessonThe Complete Heretic's Guide to Western Religion: The Mormons - by David FitzgeraldA Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - by James JoyceThe Divine Comedy - by Dante AlighieriThe Magic of Reality - by Richard DawkinsDubliners - by James JoyceMy Name Is Red - by Orhan PamukThe World Until Yesterday - by Jared DiamondThe Man Who Was Thursday - by by G. K. ChestertonThe Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven PinkerLord Jim by Joseph ConradThe Hobbit by J. R. R. TolkienThe Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas AdamsAtlas Shrugged by Ayn RandThinking, Fast and Slow - by Daniel KahnemanThe Righteous Mind - by Jonathan HaidtWorld War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max BrooksMoby Dick: or, the Whale by Herman MelvilleA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer EganLost Memory of Skin: A Novel by Russell BanksThe Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. KuhnHobbes: Leviathan by Thomas HobbesThe House of the Spirits - by Isabel AllendeArguably: Essays by Christopher HitchensThe Falls: A Novel (P.S.) by Joyce Carol OatesChrist in Egypt by D.M. MurdockThe Glass Bead Game: A Novel by Hermann HesseA Devil's Chaplain by Richard DawkinsThe Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph CampbellThe Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor DostoyevskyThe Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainThe Moral Landscape by Sam HarrisThe Decameron by Giovanni BoccaccioThe Road by Cormac McCarthyThe Grand Design by Stephen HawkingThe Evolution of God by Robert WrightThe Tin Drum by Gunter GrassGood Omens by Neil GaimanPredictably Irrational by Dan ArielyThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: A Novel by Haruki MurakamiALONE: Orphaned on the Ocean by Richard Logan & Tere Duperrault FassbenderDon Quixote by Miguel De CervantesMusicophilia by Oliver SacksDiary of a Madman and Other Stories by Nikolai GogolThe Passion of the Western Mind by Richard TarnasThe Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le GuinThe Genius of the Beast by Howard BloomAlice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll Empire of Illusion by Chris HedgesThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner The Extended Phenotype by Richard DawkinsSmoke and Mirrors by Neil GaimanThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsWhen Good Thinking Goes Bad by Todd C. RinioloHouse of Leaves by Mark Z. DanielewskiAmerican Gods: A Novel by Neil GaimanPrimates and Philosophers by Frans de WaalThe Enormous Room by E.E. CummingsThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeGod Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher HitchensThe Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama Paradise Lost by John Milton Bad Money by Kevin PhillipsThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson BurnettGodless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists by Dan BarkerThe Things They Carried by Tim O'BrienThe Limits of Power by Andrew BacevichLolita by Vladimir NabokovOrlando by Virginia Woolf On Being Certain by Robert A. Burton50 reasons people give for believing in a god by Guy P. HarrisonWalden: Or, Life in the Woods by Henry David ThoreauExile and the Kingdom by Albert CamusOur Inner Ape by Frans de WaalYour Inner Fish by Neil ShubinNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthyThe Age of American Unreason by Susan JacobyTen Theories of Human Nature by Leslie Stevenson & David HabermanHeart of Darkness by Joseph ConradThe Stuff of Thought by Stephen PinkerA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniThe Lucifer Effect by Philip ZimbardoResponsibility and Judgment by Hannah ArendtInterventions by Noam ChomskyGodless in America by George A. RickerReligious Expression and the American Constitution by Franklyn S. HaimanDeep Economy by Phil McKibbenThe God Delusion by Richard DawkinsThe Third Chimpanzee by Jared DiamondThe Woman in the Dunes by Abe KoboEvolution vs. Creationism by Eugenie C. ScottThe Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanI, Claudius by Robert GravesBreaking The Spell by Daniel C. DennettA Peace to End All Peace by David FromkinThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerThe End of Faith by Sam HarrisEnder's Game by Orson Scott CardThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonValue and Virtue in a Godless Universe by Erik J. WielenbergThe March by E. L DoctorowThe Ethical Brain by Michael GazzanigaFreethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan JacobyCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared DiamondThe Battle for God by Karen ArmstrongThe Future of Life by Edward O. WilsonWhat is Good? by A. C. GraylingCivilization and Its Enemies by Lee HarrisPale Blue Dot by Carl SaganHow We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God by Michael ShermerLooking for Spinoza by Antonio DamasioLies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al FrankenThe Red Queen by Matt RidleyThe Blank Slate by Stephen PinkerUnweaving the Rainbow by Richard DawkinsAtheism: A Reader edited by S.T. JoshiGlobal Brain by Howard BloomThe Lucifer Principle by Howard BloomGuns, Germs and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Demon-Haunted World by Carl SaganBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee BrownFuture Shock by Alvin Toffler

OTHER PAGES WORTH EXPLORING
Banned Book ListOur Amazon.com SalesMassimo Pigliucci Rationally SpeakingOnline Reading GroupTop 10 Atheism BooksFACTS Book Selections

cron
Copyright © BookTalk.org 2002-2011. All rights reserved.
Website developed by MidnightCoder.ca
Display Pagerank