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.
“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)
Having now read Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, I find Harris the clearest thinking of the bunch. He still begins with some seriously flawed premises and shows a galling lack of awareness of what faith means and how it works, but he does not make a complete straw man out of faith in the way both Dawkins and Hitchens do (his attack on Collins does stand in as his attack on all people of faith, in a kind of straw man argument). The book purports to try and show how science can shape human values, but he never actually explains that fundamental point -- he only points out that he thinks he can observe his way out of religion.
I loved listening to Sam Harris read his own book, I though it brought a lot of personal integrity to the words. It was brief for my taste, but I think that's only due to loving the book and craving more of it.
I am an Australian woman who enjoys reading many different styles of books, from history to sci fi and mystery to poetry.
OK first off, I really am an atheist and loved Christopher Hitchens and have booked in to see Sam Harris speak live. I now approach his lecture tour with trepidation. This book has so many problems. I think Mr. Harris wrote it thinking to right the wrong done his opinions at a scientific conference he alluded to in the first chapters. It has a lot of "filler" based on some very strange statistics, his opinion only and misguided, ill-informed science. He cites propagation of genes as a reason for rape, he calls into question some very basic medical science and intimates that a woman with one child who dies would grieve more than the mother with two children would grieve, if one passed away. These are just some of the problems, then he goes off track so many times filling in with things like a diatribe about psychopathy and the like. I am so disappointed.
Yes, I felt like I learned a lot from it.
Yes, to gain a better understanding of one atheistic view on how morality and scientific thought intersect.
Sam Harris is a little dull at times but not bad. It would be a bit easier to listen to if he were to add a touch more emotion to his voice.
I generally agree with Sam Harris. The idea that we can use the scientific method to find ways to optimize our general well being seems almost implicit. Growing up as a member of the LDS church I found this to be a common assumption intermingled within their spiritual teachings (although that was far from being completely accepted and I certainly applied my own personal bias to that understanding). Because of the bias I brought to this book at times I felt like the arguments he was making were so implicit that they didn't need to be presented so emphatically. I recognize that this understand could very well be due to my inexperience outside my own frame of reference.
However, as such, I would have appreciated some statistical figures whenever Harris claimed that moral relativism was prolific within scholarly social spheres. Each time he told of yet another scholar who refuted his claims I always found myself thinking that he seems to be basing his idea that moral relativism is wide spread on his personal anecdotal experience. He may very well be right, but I was a little disappointed that he didn't back this specific claim up with any actual statistical information.
My only other qualm with this book runs along the same lines. He would often ask the reader to make assumptions. Reasonable as those assumptions were, it still felt like he had to fall back onto assumptions a little often. Because of this his conclusions seemed to be based on too little evidence to be as sure of himself as he came across.
That said I thought his arguments otherwise were extremely informative. I especially appreciated his expertise in psychology and neuroscience and how he was able to integrate those fields into supporting his general thesis. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who seeks a greater understanding of how science and morality interact.
Clearly reasoned, written, and read, the Moral Landscape takes obscure and sensitive subject matter seriously. Sam expresses his concerns and critiques without obscurantist rhetoric and, while some readers will inevitably detect condescension toward certain world views, Sam never relies on tone or characterization to do more than give color his arguments which are always backed up with examples and sensible comparisons. When discussing scientific particularities, such as brain structures and experimental procedures, he is explicit without getting bogged down in jargon, minutia or interminable lists. All sources are clearly cited. I personally believe that anyone who takes morality and questions of social good seriously is obligated to read this book.
I expected nothing less from Sam Harris; not only does he provide compelling arguments for his case (which, as many people pointed out, are not entirely original), but he does so with the vocabulary of a professionnal poet.
I have edited 38 national best sellers and had a writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Sam Harris voices strong opinions about science, scientists, religion, politicians, anthropologists, and humanity's morality, values, and capacity for good and evil. The content is so fascinating and densely packed, I occasionally had to back up the file to listen again to what Harris said. The book requires close, constant attention.
Harris, who does a good job as narrator--similar to Malcolm Gladwell's delivery--believes we have a measure available for right and wrong, and we don't have to turn to religion for guidance. (I don't think anyone would argue that atrocities have been and are committed in the name of religion.) He proposes that we can measure what is good and what is bad by whether actions promote the well-being of the people directly and indirectly involved. Scientific advances have allowed us to quantify neurochemicals released, thereby determining our well-being or its opposite.
One thing in particular that struck me was his discussion of the mutilation of young girls' genitalia. If we conceptualize one eight-year-old girl held down by two men while a third cuts into her, then sews her up, allowing only enough of an opening for urination and menstruation, we are appalled. Multiply that horror by thousands and thousands of girls, and anthropologists say we should chalk it up to religious beliefs and cultural traditions unlike ours, and within that context, respect our differences, excuse, and accept. Whatever the context, Harris says, mutilation is wrong.
And that was only one point Harris makes. I recommend this amazing book.
This book was phenomenal. A beautiful and rich blend of philosophy and science that lends itself to intriguing argument on nearly every page.
The concepts themselves are novel and well developed. The opposing arguments well considered. You can certainly hear Sam's overall ideology throughout, not least of all when approaching religion head on, but even so it doesn't seem to sour the purity of his thoughts with any sort of poisonous bias, simply the inherent kind that is inescapable.
The audio version being narrated by Sam made the experience better than I'd imagine it would've been otherwise. The regular speed sounded painfully slow for some reason, as if he were drowsy (atop his already naturally slow cadence). 1.25x speed sounded more like his regular dialogue and 1.5x was perfectly swift workout losing any mental footing when attempting to keep up with his postulates.
Highly recommended, probably the most interesting read of the year for me thus far.
Report Inappropriate Content