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The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values | [Sam Harris]

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

In this explosive new book, Sam Harris tears down the wall between scientific facts and human values, arguing that most people are simply mistaken about the relationship between morality and the rest of human knowledge. Harris urges us to think about morality in terms of human and animal well-being, viewing the experiences of conscious creatures as peaks and valleys on a "moral landscape".
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Publisher's Summary

Sam Harris’s first book, The End of Faith, ignited a worldwide debate about the validity of religion. In the aftermath, Harris discovered that most people—from religious fundamentalists to nonbelieving scientists—agree on one point: science has nothing to say on the subject of human values. Indeed, our failure to address questions of meaning and morality through science has now become the most common justification for religious faith. It is also the primary reason why so many secularists and religious moderates feel obligated to "respect" the hardened superstitions of their more devout neighbors.

In this explosive new book, Sam Harris tears down the wall between scientific facts and human values, arguing that most people are simply mistaken about the relationship between morality and the rest of human knowledge. Harris urges us to think about morality in terms of human and animal well-being, viewing the experiences of conscious creatures as peaks and valleys on a "moral landscape". Because there are definite facts to be known about where we fall on this landscape, Harris foresees a time when science will no longer limit itself to merely describing what people do in the name of "morality"; in principle, science should be able to tell us what we ought to do to live the best lives possible.

Bringing a fresh perspective to age-old questions of right and wrong and good and evil, Harris demonstrates that we already know enough about the human brain and its relationship to events in the world to say that there are right and wrong answers to the most pressing questions of human life. Because such answers exist, moral relativism is simply false—and comes at increasing cost to humanity. And the intrusions of religion into the sphere of human values can be finally repelled: for just as there is no such thing as Christian physics or Muslim algebra, there can be no Christian or Muslim morality.

©2010 Sam Harris (P)2010 Simon & Schuster, Inc.

What the Critics Say

“Sam Harris breathes intellectual fire into an ancient debate. Reading this thrilling, audacious book, you feel the ground shifting beneath your feet. Reason has never had a more passionate advocate.” (Ian McEwan)

“A lively, provocative, and timely new look at one of the deepest problems in the world of ideas. Harris makes a powerful case for a morality that is based on human flourishing and thoroughly enmeshed with science and rationality. It is a tremendously appealing vision, and one that no thinking person can afford to ignore.” (Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Blank Slate)

What Members Say

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  •  
    david chesapeake, VA, United States 11-08-10
    david chesapeake, VA, United States 11-08-10 Member Since 2009

    A fellow listener inclined to share my opinion on these productions. Maybe even inspire someone toward a powerful, or educational audiobook!

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    "Schadenfreuder!"

    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.

    9 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Vrad Vodrazka Huntersville, NC United States 02-20-11
    Vrad Vodrazka Huntersville, NC United States 02-20-11 Member Since 2009
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    "Very Intellectual and Thought Provoking"

    Some of the concepts aren't necessarily new, but Sam Harris is able to beautifully articulate how morality can be studied by science. I especially appreciate the recognition that there are many gray areas in discussions of morality, unlike the rigid and sometimes harmful morality that is derived from various religious texts. At times, the book does seem to be treating religious texts as a pinata, but mostly it's required to demonstrate the validity of arguments being made.
    If you are willing to listen to philosophical thinking on morality with an open mind, you will love this audiobook. But, if you want to set your thoughts in concrete because you're terrified of change, then you probably should skip this book.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Terry Redmond, WA, United States 11-21-11
    Terry Redmond, WA, United States 11-21-11 Member Since 2007

    I'm a lawyer with interests in all things related to political philosophy, which means I'm interested in a lot of things.

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    "Astonishingly Bad"

    For a book that purports to be one of philosophy, I was astonished how conclusory the author's arguments were. The arguments against the credibilty of "religious" sources for moral teachings amounted to little more than stating that (a) early chapters of the old testament advocated killing your children and slavery (not a peep about the new testament) and (b) many Catholoc priests have been pedophiles. I'm not kidding that's the argument. No one's a fan of child abuse, but you can't dismiss Christianity as a source of moral teaching simply be establishing that certain of its adherents were demonstrably moral failures - can you say ad hominem attack? (For the record, I'm not religious.)
    I never read a word from the author in support of his central argument that ethical and moral rules can be derived from "science." I read nothing associated with the scientific method in this book. I agree with the reviewer who stated that the author's views amounted to a form of utilitarianism. Is that new? Is that somehow science-based? If so, the author never explained how.

    14 of 25 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Shawn Riverside, CA, United States 01-23-11
    Shawn Riverside, CA, United States 01-23-11
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    "Nothing New"

    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.

    14 of 26 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Charlotte Henry WOODSTOCK, GA, US 04-30-14
    Charlotte Henry WOODSTOCK, GA, US 04-30-14
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    "Loved it!"
    If you could sum up The Moral Landscape in three words, what would they be?

    Sam Harris rocks!


    What other book might you compare The Moral Landscape to and why?

    Letter to a christian nation by Sam Harris. Primarily because it's by Sam Harris


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jessica HOUSTON, TX, United States 04-25-14
    Jessica HOUSTON, TX, United States 04-25-14 Member Since 2013
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    "Farfetched and distasteful"
    Would you try another book from Sam Harris and/or Sam Harris?

    I wouldn't. I often enjoy books that contemplate the fine line of scientific principles and religion but some of the points made are just far too extreme for me to relate too or even appreciate.


    Has The Moral Landscape turned you off from other books in this genre?

    Not Sure.


    What three words best describe Sam Harris’s performance?

    fine. nothing significant to contribute.


    Any additional comments?

    The psychopath chapter nearly had me doubled over in disgust. I realize the content was presented to make a point but I was horrified by the use of the specific example used and had I had this book in paperback it would have gone in the trash after that. I could barely pay attention to the rest of the content after that. Maybe not an objective review but if you are at all sensitive to this type of content. Be warned.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Thomas Denver, CO, United States 12-29-13
    Thomas Denver, CO, United States 12-29-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Good for some, but nothing new here."
    Would you listen to The Moral Landscape again? Why?

    I listened to it twice. It demands attention in some parts which I can't always give while listening.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Sam Harris. He is handsome genius.


    What about Sam Harris’s performance did you like?

    He is such strong man. He make me feel safe.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    The Moral Landscape. You've seen these ideas before, but not from such a handsome, genius man.


    Any additional comments?

    Speaking as an atheist and a humanist there is much that I agree with in this book. Hence the four stars, what he says many need to hear. However, I didn't need to hear it, I don't know the difference between Harris' paradigm of ethics and humanism. I would have liked to hear more credit given to humanism. I would disagree that the paradigm is utilitarianism because Harris raises questions that lead me to think he would not always prefer the greatest good for the greatest number. I'm guessing he would allow many people to die before allowing his family to come to harm. That's just a guess though.

    He states that a science of morality should be based in promotion of "human well being." Then he suggest that science and reason should be employed to answer questions of morality. So, "good" is what promotes "human well being." That is Harris' categorical imperative. How does he support this? By stating that "human well being" is the only topic of interest to humans. Although that's not really proof. That doesn't stop Harris from carrying on as if promotion of "human well being" has been proven to be a moral absolute.So this "absolute truth" is really just another "subjective truth." I guess I was put off by the level of certainty he had in asserting this. He could have just said, "I don't know, but this is my best guess - and a guess that benefits humanity anyway. So let's just go with this assumption." I would have respected that more. I can imagine many scenarios where "human well being" would not be "good." It all hinges on what kind of a universe we really live in. For instance, in a solipsistic universe the happiness of only myself matters. No point in giving to unicef if other people don't really exist. If god really does exist, then the divine will is the only good (Euthyphro argument aside). It has always been my position that in order to understand what is good, we need to know what kind of universe this is and why we are here. Harris seems to make assumptions about this as well. He seems to be going with the materialistic universe. It is fine to make these assumptions - just be honest about what they are - assumptions.

    What really bugs me is that Harris does not believe in free will, he is a determinist. (I am also a determinist - I thought Harris' book on free will was brilliant). Therefore everything in the universe is predetermined or predestined. If this is the case, then wouldn't everything that happens be considered "good" as it conforms to the order of the universe. One could argue this would make the holocaust "good." Another might counter that if the holocaust was always supposed to happen, could not have possibly been avoided and had to happen just the way it did happen. Then in some sense, it is "good" because it is part of the order from which all life flows.

    Maybe I'm thinking too hard about this. I would have liked it if Harris addressed these questions in the book.

    Lastly, "moral relativism" gets a bad wrap in this book. Am I the only one who understands the purpose of moral relativism is to try to understand that a rational compassionate person will act differently in various moral environments? George Washington owned slaves, but this is mitigated by the morals of his time. A primitive tribesman raids villages and kills children, but "everybody else does it," and he could be a good man emerged in this system. The purpose of "moral relativism" never seemed to be a means to prove that "cult A sees promiscuity as an imperative, and cult B sees chastity as an imperative, " so therefore both are correct. I don't know why Harris goes after moral relativism in this book, I guess he just wanted to show that he was not in the pocket of pointy headed academics.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Isabella Jacksonville, FL, United States 10-16-13
    Isabella Jacksonville, FL, United States 10-16-13 Member Since 2011
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    "Why so fast??"
    Any additional comments?

    The content intrigues me. However, the terrible Narrator makes it impossible to absorb by reading so fast! Money waster...

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chlo-bell CLIFTON, VA, United States 10-16-13
    Chlo-bell CLIFTON, VA, United States 10-16-13 Member Since 2007

    Private intellectual, writer, and retired academic. Currently R&D director for Gravitational Systems Engineering, Inc.

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    "Science as religion, certainty as science"

    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.

    Gare Henderson

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paul St. George's, NL, Canada 09-18-13
    Paul St. George's, NL, Canada 09-18-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Bad Audio Quality"
    This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

    The problem isn't the book, it's the audio quality. You can actually hear people having a conversation in the background of Sam Harris speaking from time to time. Where is he recording this, a classroom?


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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