Sam Harris’ Next Book

Sam Harris took to his Twitter to announce his forthcoming book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, scheduled to hit the bookshelves in October. Jerry Coyne has tracked down a description:

Harris proposes that answers to questions of human value can be visualized on a “moral landscape”—a space of real and potential outcomes whose peaks and valleys correspond to states of greater or lesser well being in conscious creatures like ourselves. Different ways of thinking and behaving—different cultural practices, ethical codes, modes of government, etc.—translate into movements across this landscape. Such changes can be analyzed objectively on many levels—ranging from biochemistry to economics—but they have their crucial realization as states and capacities of the human brain.

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7 Responses

  1. Eduardo R. Cruz says:

    Science determining human values? Hmmm. How unscientific!

    Eduardo Cruz

  2. Sorry, just as religion has very little moral high ground, neither does science. The answer is in spirituality.

  3. Sam Harris thinks that science can determine human values? There’s nothing new about that idea–August Comte a long time ago had a similarly naive confidence in the ability to employ the tools of the hard sciences onto sociological questions–but it does jibe with other aspects of his perspective and it certainly explains a lot.

  4. Aptanalogy says:

    Hey, just because you have not thought of a way to combine human scientific knowledge into a secular system of values doesn’t mean that it cannot be done, nor does the fact that it hasn’t been successfully done before.
    I, for one, am excited about what Mr. Harris has to say, because I think it’s time to loosen the superstitious grip faith/religion has on this nation, so that I don’t have to raise my children in a world where they’re judged and punished in varying ways by their peers for not believing in fairy tales. It’s time to turn the social unacceptability of atheism on religion.

  5. Eugene Hamburger says:

    Sam Harris, like other “luminaries” before him totally misses the truth: morality, like any other human construct, is an invention of human minds. In other words: morality does not exist. How can science measure and define an illusion? Using science to measure morality is the same as using science to define “sorrow” or “beauty” or “hope” – they are just human concepts and interpreted subjectively.

  6. Jan Tellefsen says:

    Eugene, you say “morality, like any other human construct, is an invention of human minds. In other words: morality does not exist.”. Your logic implies that music, books, empathy or friendships do not exist. Please explain.

    Morality should be based on the welfare of conscious beings, and science can help us understand what causes suffering and joy among them. Harris is a neuroscientist with a cosncience, and hence worth listening to on morality.

  7. Eugene Hamburger says:

    @Jeff:

    Let’s not split hairs:

    1. Music does exist. Sound waves can actually be measured empirically, so that example is out.

    2. Empathy and friendship (and morality, I will concede) exist as CONCEPTS in human minds. But they cannot be defined empircally. Every culture, every civilization, every age will define friendship, empathy and morality differently. You CANNOT empircally prove that one version of morality is superior to another. To claim that you can is utter folly and hubris.

    “Morality should be based on the welfare of conscious beings…”

    Why? I demand proof of why this is true.

    “…and science can help us understand what causes suffering and joy among them…”

    This is impossible. Happiness and suffering are defined differently by everyone.

    I ask you the following thought-questions:

    1. Why is it wrong for others to suffer? Suppose it pleases me to make them suffer, why am I wrong?

    2. What force “proves” morality exists? What force makes morality “true?”

    I will answer #2 for you: the answer is MIGHT. Human force, or, if you prefer a more poetic answer: the sword. If you say morality is “we should prevent others from suffering” but I say morality is “fighting and winning glory, killing, looting and pillaging” how do we reconcile this? The answer is simple: the Strongest makes the rules. All else is error.

    In other words, enforcing morality is done by humans – not Nature – no matter what “natural morality” you find in brain-scans, those brain scans do not have the power to enforce the laws you discover. You need force for that. You need the sword – it makes all laws.

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