I admire Harris' philosophy, research and writing. But this book could benefit from a professional narrator.
In an interview, Harris claimed that "read by author" was desirable because one can hear the writer's inflection and intent. IMO, that's quixotic. "Read by author" has always been a red flag for me and this book proves my point. Harris is a brilliant man and this audio book is well worth having but he doesn't sustain the narrative the way a pro could. After a while, he's just reading aloud. He's not really telling us what he wants us to know. His narrative lacks the passion of his words and ideas. Alas. I, nevertheless, recommend it.
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
“The fact that millions of people use the term "morality" as a synonym for religious dogmatism, racism, sexism, or other failures of insight and compassion should not oblige us to merely accept their terminology until the end of time.”
― Sam Harris, The Moral Landscape
I've avoided Sam Harris probably from a bit of prejudice. Although I've always enjoyed Christopher Hitchens, I've thought others of the New Atheists a bit shrill. I just assumed Sam Harris was going to be more hammer and less scalpel. I was wrong. I really enjoyed this book. While there is little doubt what Sam Harris feels about religion, his method here is more an attempt to 'cut a third path' through the wilderness between those educated liberals who think there is no universal foundation for human values AND the claim that a universal morality requires the support of faith-based religion. Obviously, being able to criticize religion plays a part of this effort, but Sam Harris (in this book at least) seems more interested in pushing people to think that a scientific approach to morality is at least an important step. I agree. The idea that science has an important thing to say about values and morals is fundamental.
Let me start with what is good about this book. It is well written and easy to follow; at no point did I find the discussion confusing or have to rewind and relisten. Sam Harris does a decent job narrating the book as well, though I do think it would be better if a professional reader had read the text instead.
The bad, unfortunately, is the actual content of the book. First, let me answer the big question; what kind of moral philosophy is Sam Harris putting forth? It's nothing fundamentally new; it's just utilitarianism. His arguments contain all of the strengths and flaws of utilitarianism. He fails to adequately address any of the flaws. Harris also often resorts to the "Can anyone doubt...?" tactic to avoid defending or discussing key premises or assumptions in ethical thought.
I think anyone that is moderately well read in ethical philosophy will gain little from this book. If you're looking to learn about ethics, and you're not well read on the subject, I'd recommend A History of Ethical Thought (also on Audible) over this any day.
A fellow listener inclined to share my opinion on these productions. Maybe even inspire someone toward a powerful, or educational audiobook!
As the title was ending anxiety arose for I again didn't want it to. So many different thinking points covered and still no Idea where to go from here. I decided to just listen to it again.
I especially enjoyed the controversial section about the non-existence of 'freewill'. I have come across this previously in physics books but never with a clear concise argument against it as found here in this masterpiece.
P.S. If you actually read this far and make it here, the title of this review is a meaningless non-sequitur. lol
Buy this book you will like it regardless of your religious biases...I hope.
Private intellectual, writer, and retired academic. Currently R&D director for Gravitational Systems Engineering, Inc.
I was really disappointed with this book from the start, but after reading a couple of similar texts I decided to go back and give it a fair hearing. I left with the conclusion that this guy is as inflexible in his thinking as a Nazi. He assumes that his knowledge is complete and infallible, he makes fun of people who don't support his conclusions as apodictic. He makes the same mistakes that the 14th century priests made in believing that the bible contained all knowledge of value. He quotes many studies and hangs on their results as fact, as opposed to pathways.
My daughter asked me if I believed in the supernatural, like spells, witches, etc.. I responded that I did believe that there was tremendous knowledge that I don't have, but that I think that the concept of supernatural is a contradiction in that if it occurred then it is, by definition, not supernatural. In other words if someone figures out how to fly around on a broom stick, then broom stick flight is just something that someone else has figured out how to do...not magic, not supernatural.
I digress because Dr. Harris has truly missed this lesson. Knowledge is a direction not a destination. And as a non-religious scientist, who respects all knowledge, I find that his certainty on so many issues makes me doubt either his credibility or his sanity.
However, if you are looking for someone to confirm that science is the new God, then this is the book for you.
Same Harris keeps impressing me with his intelligent thoughts and prospective about the world. I hope I could have the chance to meet him in the future. Wonderful thinker!
To explain where I'm coming from, I was raised Mormon and became an atheist in my mid 20's--nearly 20 years ago now. Religion has remained a fascinating topic for me, and I've spent some time over the years discussing it with believers and non believers alike.
The most challenging topic has been morality. Certain believers are adamant that there is absolutely no basis of morality without a God to give the rules, keep score, and inflict judgment. Is that true? Taking a step back, what causes a thing to be moral or immoral, regardless of whether there is a god or not? Or is morality something that doesn't actually exist in the real world?
In The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris discusses this issue head on. The tone is intelligent, insightful, optimistic, and humble. Yes, morality exists, and yes, in principle at least it is accessible to science. There are many very tough questions regarding ethics and Harris doesn't shy away from them or pretend to have all the answers. But he has a few answers, including a clear understanding of how the problem should be framed.
I've read a couple of books by "new atheists" Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, and frankly wasn't that impressed. Attacking religion is kind of like shooting fish in a barrel, and can lead to being a little lazy in how you describe things. This book is completely different--it's a thoughtful and insightful discourse on a challenging and important topic.
I'm a bit of a Sam Harris fanboy, so I obviously enjoyed the book, but I agree with some of his critics on how it isn't completely clear on how science is supposed to guide us in terms of morality, so in that regard there's a certain allure of manifesto to his thesis.
I see it as a starter's pistol on breaking the taboos protecting ''questionnable'' morality from criticism, akin to how The End Of Faith started the new atheist movement. Sam Harris has never shied away from his mission as a hopeful primer for honest conversation and The Moral Landscape certainly fits this M.O.
I would also ad that, as it is always the case, I find that author reading his/her own work ads to the experience.
Sam Harris is over of the great intellectuals of our time. misunderstood by many on the right and the left but for those willing to really listen, he is a fascinating and enlightening.