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Sam Harris at CFI in NYC on 10/7/2010 talking about "The Moral Landscape"
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Author:  Chris OConnor [ Thu Dec 09, 2010 10:14 pm ]
Post subject:  Sam Harris at CFI in NYC on 10/7/2010 talking about "The Moral Landscape"


Author:  Chris OConnor [ Sat Dec 11, 2010 12:35 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Sam Harris at CFI in NYC on 10/7/2010 talking about "The Moral Landscape"

Wow, great video!

Please watch the entire thing, but pay attention to what Sam says around 14:25 in the video. This is going to be such a great book discussion.

Author:  Dexter [ Sat Dec 11, 2010 4:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sam Harris at CFI in NYC on 10/7/2010 talking about "The Moral Landscape"

I started watching, he makes a very compelling case. In fact, it's hard to see how most of what he says is even controversial. Once you grant the goal of minimizing suffering, or maximizing well-being, it seems you can get right and wrong answers. It'll be interesting to see how he fleshes it out in his book, hopefully it's not just padding to get it into book size.

He's also a good model for public speaking I think, and in particular using PowerPoint effectively.

Author:  Chris OConnor [ Sat Dec 11, 2010 8:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sam Harris at CFI in NYC on 10/7/2010 talking about "The Moral Landscape"

I read the Intro and watched the video already. The video seems to only cover the Intro to the book. Hopefully there is much more to his ideas on the moral landscape than found in the Intro, but the Intro is compelling enough to me. Quite frankly I think Sam Harris is going to start a revolution in the field of morality. I am finding myself in total agreement with what he's saying.

Author:  DWill [ Mon Dec 13, 2010 12:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sam Harris at CFI in NYC on 10/7/2010 talking about "The Moral Landscape"

Chris OConnor wrote:
Wow, great video!

Please watch the entire thing, but pay attention to what Sam says around 14:25 in the video. This is going to be such a great book discussion.

Chris, do you mean where he says that the religious right folks will have the upper hand unless the rest of us get some conviction? He's talking about people like Rick Warren not being shy about speaking against the bad features of some Muslim societies.

In general, I was disappointed with the lecture. I think I expected SH to really extend what he'd already told us in The End of Faith, but I didn't get that. Maybe I'm also reacting to his very low-key style of presenting. He has yet to deliver specifics on the place of science in answering moral questions. If he means reasoned inquiry, as distinguished form scientific research, well then, of course, that's what we must use. But that's saying nothing new. How can scientific discovery make us more certain about what is morally true? In The End of Faith he used the example of corporal punishment of children, and how science detects a harmful hormone (I think it was) in kids who have been hit. What if another study contradicts those results, as will often happen? Do we then change our position or remain undecided? What about the matter of effect size in research? What effect is significant enough for us to base a moral judgment on it? And how much trust can we place in scientific research to be strictly objective? Peer review doesn't eliminate intrusions of bias and manipulation of data.

When I get The Moral landscape (for Christmas, I think!) I'll be able to see whether I'm off-base in this criticism

Author:  geo [ Mon Dec 13, 2010 12:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sam Harris at CFI in NYC on 10/7/2010 talking about "The Moral Landscape"

DWill wrote:
Chris OConnor wrote:
Wow, great video!

Please watch the entire thing, but pay attention to what Sam says around 14:25 in the video. This is going to be such a great book discussion.

Chris, do you mean where he says that the religious right folks will have the upper hand unless the rest of us get some conviction? He's talking about people like Rick Warren not being shy about speaking against the bad features of some Muslim societies.

In general, I was disappointed with the lecture. I think I expected SH to really extend what he'd already told us in The End of Faith, but I didn't get that. Maybe I'm also reacting to his very low-key style of presenting. He has yet to deliver specifics on the place of science in answering moral questions. If he means reasoned inquiry, as distinguished form scientific research, well then, of course, that's what we must use. But that's saying nothing new. How can scientific discovery make us more certain about what is morally true? In The End of Faith he used the example of corporal punishment of children, and how science detects a harmful hormone (I think it was) in kids who have been hit. What if another study contradicts those results, as will often happen? Do we then change our position or remain undecided? What about the matter of effect size in research? What effect is significant enough for us to base a moral judgment on it? And how much trust can we place in scientific research to be strictly objective? Peer review doesn't eliminate intrusions of bias and manipulation of data.

When I get The Moral landscape (for Christmas, I think!) I'll be able to see whether I'm off-base in this criticism


I've arranged to get Mark Twain's autobiography for Christmas. Not sure when I'll get around to reading Harris' book.

Harris addresses some questions about the role of science in morality on the Amazon page.

Q: Can science answer such questions?
A: Yes, in principle. Human well-being is not a random phenomenon. It depends on many factors—ranging from genetics and neurobiology to sociology and economics. But, clearly, there are scientific truths to be known about how we can flourish in this world. Wherever we can act so as to have an impact on the well-being of others, questions of morality apply.

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/143917 ... 1439171211

I would speculate that advances in evolutionary psychology would help us understand how our genetic underpinnings motivate our actions. We have to understand how and why we are so selfish and why, as long as our basic needs are met, we don't need to be. In this respect, critical thinking, guided by a scientific understanding of ourselves, would help us better understand how our actions affect others and help us to make moral decisions.

Science is never absolutely certain though, but I think it's plain to see that there are no absolutes in religion either. Religious certainty is illusory and dangerous.

Author:  DWill [ Mon Dec 13, 2010 4:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sam Harris at CFI in NYC on 10/7/2010 talking about "The Moral Landscape"

From that Q & A, I sense that he's talking about a science of morality, which is maybe different from saying that science, in the sense of experimental science, will tell us more about how to behave morally. I think it's all a matter of where we're getting our information. Harris says what I would agree with, that getting this information from religious dictates doesn't work well, so let's get it from observation as much as possible. We also get our moral information from our intuitions, and these are probably indispensable, but some of them aren't up to the job of extending the moral sphere as much as it needs to be extended. Countering the influence of that evolutionary heritage is a big challenge.

Harris speaks of human flourishing and human happiness interchangeably, but happiness is basically measured per the individual, whereas flourishing seems to register at the societal level. This has always been one of our problems, that we are wired to feel our own happiness and those closest to us, but aren't so attuned to the happiness of a collective. Morality should be pushing us to find more of our own happiness in the happiness of unknown others.

Harris is trying his hardest to move morality away from exclusive attention on behaviors that a god considers to be wrong, which is where religion tends to put it. This is the real cleavage point between many of the faithful and secularists. Harris is so right, I think, about the concerns of the Catholic church demonstrating a failure to focus on the true moral issues, issues that have to do with human well-being, vs. what God considers to be an abomination.

Anyway, some great material for thought and discussion when the time comes.

I tried to look at a copy of the Twain bio today to consider buying it for my wife for Christmas, but it was plastic-wrapped! What a perverted thing to do. I didn't buy it. I recalled also that this huge book consists mostly of scholarly apparatus, with relatively little text.

Author:  lindad_amato [ Mon Dec 13, 2010 7:28 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sam Harris at CFI in NYC on 10/7/2010 talking about "The Moral Landscape"

"I tried to look at a copy of the Twain bio today to consider buying it for my wife for Christmas, but it was plastic-wrapped! What a perverted thing to do. I didn't buy it. I recalled also that this huge books consists mostly of scholarly apparatus, with relatively little text." DWill

This is correct. The Twain bio is not a narrative. It is his notes, letters, etc.

I am really looking forward to discussing the Moral Landscape. Let's please make sure we wait until Jan. to start. Hopefully, then we'll have a good number of folks involved.

Happy Holidays to all.

Author:  Chris OConnor [ Tue Dec 14, 2010 1:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Sam Harris at CFI in NYC on 10/7/2010 talking about "The Moral Landscape"

lindad_amato wrote:
Let's please make sure we wait until Jan. to start. Hopefully, then we'll have a good number of folks involved.


It is important for those of us that are planning to read and participate to make periodic posts here in this forum prior to the start of the discussion period. Visitors and members need to see that other people are planning to be involved in the discussion. Seeing some activity will motivate them to buy the book and start reading.

I suggest we make new threads with Sam Harris videos from YouTube and concentrate on the author for the next few weeks. If we give people some interesting threads, not based on "The Moral Landscape" but merely on Sam Harris, they will be far more inclined to jump into the book discussion once it starts.

So please do post! Say anything.

Author:  lindad_amato [ Wed Dec 15, 2010 2:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sam Harris at CFI in NYC on 10/7/2010 talking about "The Moral Landscape"

DWill wrote:
Chris OConnor wrote:
Wow, great video!

Please watch the entire thing, but pay attention to what Sam says around 14:25 in the video. This is going to be such a great book discussion.

Chris, do you mean where he says that the religious right folks will have the upper hand unless the rest of us get some conviction? He's talking about people like Rick Warren not being shy about speaking against the bad features of some Muslim societies.

In general, I was disappointed with the lecture. I think I expected SH to really extend what he'd already told us in The End of Faith, but I didn't get that. Maybe I'm also reacting to his very low-key style of presenting. He has yet to deliver specifics on the place of science in answering moral questions. If he means reasoned inquiry, as distinguished form scientific research, well then, of course, that's what we must use. But that's saying nothing new. How can scientific discovery make us more certain about what is morally true? In The End of Faith he used the example of corporal punishment of children, and how science detects a harmful hormone (I think it was) in kids who have been hit. What if another study contradicts those results, as will often happen? Do we then change our position or remain undecided? What about the matter of effect size in research? What effect is significant enough for us to base a moral judgment on it? And how much trust can we place in scientific research to be strictly objective? Peer review doesn't eliminate intrusions of bias and manipulation of data.

When I get The Moral landscape (for Christmas, I think!) I'll be able to see whether I'm off-base in this criticism


I very much enjoyed this video. I believe that Harris means reasoned inquiry more than scientific discovery. He seems to be proposing his "Universal Morality" , an agreement of the meaning of morality as an alternative to blind faith in various religions.

Author:  lindad_amato [ Wed Dec 15, 2010 2:46 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sam Harris at CFI in NYC on 10/7/2010 talking about "The Moral Landscape"

Chris OConnor wrote:
lindad_amato wrote:
Let's please make sure we wait until Jan. to start. Hopefully, then we'll have a good number of folks involved.


It is important for those of us that are planning to read and participate to make periodic posts here in this forum prior to the start of the discussion period. Visitors and members need to see that other people are planning to be involved in the discussion. Seeing some activity will motivate them to buy the book and start reading.

I suggest we make new threads with Sam Harris videos from YouTube and concentrate on the author for the next few weeks. If we give people some interesting threads, not based on "The Moral Landscape" but merely on Sam Harris, they will be far more inclined to jump into the book discussion once it starts.

So please do post! Say anything.


Agreed, completely. I just hate missing the beginning of a discussion if it starts a bit before the month.

Author:  DWill [ Thu Dec 16, 2010 6:57 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sam Harris at CFI in NYC on 10/7/2010 talking about "The Moral Landscape"

lindad_amato wrote:
I very much enjoyed this video. I believe that Harris means reasoned inquiry more than scientific discovery. He seems to be proposing his "Universal Morality" , an agreement of the meaning of morality as an alternative to blind faith in various religions.

If it's reasoned inquiry, that wouldn't be different from what others or Harris himself have already said. Richard Dawkins said that he was one who before reading The Moral Landscape thought that science and morality were separate. Now he thinks that science can inform morality, and I'm wondering how Harris managed to convince him.

Author:  lindad_amato [ Fri Dec 17, 2010 1:28 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sam Harris at CFI in NYC on 10/7/2010 talking about "The Moral Landscape"

DWill wrote:
lindad_amato wrote:
I very much enjoyed this video. I believe that Harris means reasoned inquiry more than scientific discovery. He seems to be proposing his "Universal Morality" , an agreement of the meaning of morality as an alternative to blind faith in various religions.

If it's reasoned inquiry, that wouldn't be different from what others or Harris himself have already said. Richard Dawkins said that he was one who before reading The Moral Landscape thought that science and morality were separate. Now he thinks that science can inform morality, and I'm wondering how Harris managed to convince him.


It seems as if they are both looking for some empirical way to substantiate their atheistic and anti-organized religion beliefs. Personally, I don't believe that the backing of science is necessary. The evidence that religions and their beliefs cause seriously negative socioeconomic, political and self-centered actions is apparent.

Here's a link to an interesting article, which discusses some research along the lines of what Harris has been involved with.
http://www.npr.org/2010/12/15/132078267 ... c=fb&cc=fp

Author:  DWill [ Fri Dec 17, 2010 5:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Sam Harris at CFI in NYC on 10/7/2010 talking about "The Moral Landscape"

Thanks, I'll look into that link later. The somewhat surprising result of Harris' neuroscience view would appear to be endorsement, to a certain degree, of people "doing" religion. In the video where he showed an image of a Muslim in prayer, he said that the brain state of that person might be a desirable one; however devotion looks inside the brain, it seems to equate to a feeling of well-being, the goal of morality in Harris' view. Harris' disagreement was with other, perhaps dangerous, brain states that a Muslim might have.

I would hope Harris moves away from the the anti-religion theme in this book. As Kwame Anthony said in his review, he's taken two big bites of that apple already. He needs to show us his alternative to the conventional explanation of morality.

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